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UEFA Champions League roundup: Arsenal leading Group F; Barcelona, Chelsea upset

Britain Soccer Champions League

Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, center, celebrates with his teammates after scoring his second goal of the game during the Group F Champions League soccer match between Arsenal and Marseille at the Emirates stadium in London, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Alastair Grant

Group E: Basil (Switzerland) 1, Chelsea (England) 0

Possibly Chelsea’s worst performance of the new Mourinho era (or, at least one that rivals their loss at Newcastle) saw the 2011-12 champions dominated in Basel yet even 0-0 in the 87th minute. That’s when a long ball from central defender Fabian Schär to Mohamed Salah beat Chelsea right back Branislav Ivanovic to send the Egyptian in on goal. Chipping Petr Cech and nestling his shot into the right side netting, the Basel attacker gave the Swiss champions their second win of the tournament over Chelsea.

From our recap:

With the damage from today’s embarrassment limited, inconsistency should be more worrying than Chelsea’s bottom line. Coming off a 3-0 win this weekend against West Ham, the Blues gave every reason to believe they’d extend their Champions League winning streak to four, clinch their group, and give themselves the luxury of fielding kids and reserves two weeks from now. Instead, the team suffers another Newcastle-esque dip, lucky to get out of Switzerland with just a one-goal loss.

Chelsea remains on top of Group E with nine points, a top-two finish assured. Basel jumps into second, meaning a draw or better on Dec. 11 against Schalke sends them through.

[MORE: Late Mohamed Salah goal gives Basel second straight win over Chelsea]

Group E: Steaua Bucharest (Romania) 0, Schalke (Germany) 0

Give the Romanian champions credit. They’ve now drawn three games in a row, and while that won’t get them into Europa League, it will make life a lot harder on Schalke. After a game they were expected to win, the Miners find themselves in third place, their inability to find a goal in Bucharest (despite 17 shots) meaning they must beat Basel on Dec. 11 to return to the knockout stage. A draw, and Schalke’s off to Europa League, left to rue their inability to get teh two extra points they needed at Steaua.

Group F: Borussia Dortmund (Germany) 3, Napoli (Italy) 1

An early if controversial goal from the spot saw Marco Reus give the home side an 10th minute lead. In the second half Jakub Blasczcykowski gave last year’s finalists a two-goal edge, with substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang restoring the advantage after Lorenzo Insigne had temporarily brought Napoli to within one.

From our recap:

[The] margin gives BVB a crucial edge in goal difference over Napoli, not only earning them an advantage in their head-to-head tiebreaker but leaving them likely to go through if there’s a three-way tie atop the group after the next round. If both Dortmund and Napoli win on December 11, three teams will finish with 12 points, with almost every tiebreaker scenario seeing last year’s finalists ahead of at least one of Arsenal or Napoli.

[MORE: Reus, Blaszczykowski, Aubamenyang goals see Borussia Dortmund down Napoli, move second in UEFA Champions League group]

Group F: Arsenal (England) 2, Marseille (France) 0

Jack Wilshire’s goal 30 seconds into the game provided early punishment for Marseille’s second choice side, with the England international’s second after the break finishing an easy day for the Gunners.

From our recap:

Even in the darker times for Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, the less stable seasons of the last few years, marked by those acerbic calls for something new around the managerial offices at the Emirates, there has always been this bracing, ongoing Champions League achievement.

And here Arsenal is once again, drawing ever closer to the brightly romantic nights of Champions League knockout stages for an amazing 14th consecutive season.

Arsenal was one of five clubs with a chance to advance Tuesday. Wenger’s Gunners did their part, and quite comfortably so, getting on top of Marseille after just 30 seconds and cruising to a 2-0 win that wasn’t quite that close.

At 12 points, Arsenal leads Group F and needs only to avoid a blowout in Naples to make the next round.

[MORE: Arsenal cruises past Marseille, draws closer to Champions League knockout rounds]

Group G: Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) 1, Atlético Madrid (Spain) 1

Group in hand, Atlético elected to leave Diego Costa and David Villa at home. Just after halftime, the omissions seemed irrelevant as Raúl Garcia flicked a pass behind a high Zenit line to send Adrían alone on goal. Beating Yuri Lodygin, Adrían gave his team a lead that would last for 21 minutes. That’s when Atlético defender Toby Alderweirald, getting a rare start after his summer move from Ajax, headed an Igor Smolnikov cross into his own net, helping the hosts salvage a result.

Group G: Porto (Portugal) 1, Austria Wien (Austria) 1

For the second straight meeting, Porto got off to a slow start against Austria Wien, though unlike their early stage visit to Vienna, the Dragons were made to pay for it on Tuesday. Roman Kienast’s 11th minute goal was eventually matched by Jackson Martínez early in the second half, but after tonight’s 1-1 draw at the Dragão, the Portuguese champions are left with one point from their three group stage home games.

Remarkably, they still have a chance to qualify for the knockout round, though they need help. Not only do they need a victory at the Vicente Calderon, but they need s Austria Wien result against Zenit. Else, the Russians are through.

Group H: Ajax (Netherlands) 2, Barcelona (Spain) 1

First half goals from Thulani Serero and Danny Hoesen took advantage of a Barcelona defense that was missing Victor Valdes, Dani Alves, Jordi Alba, and Sergio Busquests to protect them. In the second half, an early red card allowed Xavi Hernández to pull the Blaugrana within one from the spot, but a 10-man Ajax survived the siege to stay within one point of second place ahead of Dec. 11’s visit to Milan.

From our recap:

Unlike the case of Chelsea, who also suffered a road upset on Tuesday, there are easy answers to why Barcelona were knocked off. While there may not be a huge difference in quality between Ajax and Basel (both underdogs played extremely well), Chelsea were using players that usually feature among their first choice XIs. Whereas José Mourinho’s substitutes were Fernando Torres, Eden Hazard, and Kevin De Druyne, Barcelona was left relying on little used prospects.

When Martino’s bringing the likes of Traoré, Roberto, and Patric on to chase an equalizing goal, it’s no wonder Barcelona were unable to prevent their first loss of the year. But having clinched a spot in the next round, there’s no reason to dwell on what was ultimately a meaningless result.

[MORE: Injuries, absences leave Barcelona no room for comeback against 10-man Ajax]

Group H: Celtic (Scotland) 0, Milan (Italy) 3

Milan’s most impressive performance of the tournament saw the Rossoneri go up through Kaká after 11 minutes, with Cristian Zapata doubling the visitors’ lead just after half time. Mario Balotelli provided the finishing touches just before the hour mark, with Milan scoring on each shot they put on target.

Despite slipping to 13th in Serie A, Milan have a chance to go through with a draw at home on Dec. 11. Celtic, however, will bow out of Europe after their trip to Barcelona, their three points through five rounds consigning them to last place in their group.