FOX Soccer Exclusive
Arsenal, Chelsea eye round of sixteen
Arsenal can take a big step towards the round of sixteen as they host eliminated Olympique Marseille at the Emirates (live, FOX Sports 2, Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET). The penultimate matchday of the Champions League group stage also sees Borussia Dortmund facing a major test against Napoli (live, FOX Soccer 2Go, Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET) and Chelsea with a chance to book their slot away against FC Basel (live, FOX Sports 1, Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET) in Switzerland.
But most eyes will be on Group F, with a suddenly slumping Dortmund side facing potential elimination at the hands of the Italians. Should Dortmund fail to take all three points while watching Arsenal win, last year’s finalists will be consigned to the ignominy of the Europa League.
Arsenal are cruising both at home and in Europe. Only Manchester United have managed to knock down the Gunners the month, with Arsenal entering this match off a professional and solid 2-0 win over a tricky Southampton side. They preceded that with a remarkable week that saw them dismantle Liverpool in a performance that reminded many of the golden era of the Invincibles; then pulled off a remarkable smash-and-grab at the Westfalenstadion to make them the first English side ever to win there.
Arsenal are heavy favorites to down a Marseille side that has looked utterly lost in Europe this season, and somewhat sub-par in Ligue 1 to boot. They racked up an expected win over cellar-dwellers Ajaccio on Friday, but are ten points off the top of the table, and look very average despite sitting fourth. The Gunners swept them aside in September behind goals from Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey; a penalty, converted by Jordan Ayew made the final 2-1 scoreline appear closer than it truly was.
Arsenal get both Walcott and Mathieu Flamini back for the match, and manager Arsene Wenger is expected to keep faith with his core lineup. The only questions hang over Tomas Rosicky -- who has been in stellar form yet may lose his place -- and the fitness of Mesut Ozil. Ozil’s arrival sparked the Arsenal renaissance in the first place, making already talented players -- Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Rosicky -- that much better, but has been patchy at best in the past two matches. Wenger tactitly admitted Monday that he is struggling to keep up with the demands of Premier League play.
"He has just arrived here three months ago and overall did not have the best of preparations for the Premier League.” Wenger said in the pregame press conference. “Ozil is a young player, 25 years old so of course there is a lot of room for improvement for him.”
Dortmund are in more dire straits. They are coming off two bad losses, punctuated Saturday by a 3-0 demolition in front of the Yellow Wall by arch-rivals Bayern Munich. Making matters worse, that game was decided by a former Dortmund star: Mario Goetze. Now, they face a Napoli side that has already beaten them once in Europe, with Gonzalo Higuain sparking a shocking first matchday win that suggested Dortmund may not be the team they were last season; Napoli actually scored all three goals in that 2-1 win, when Camilo Zuniga made matters tense at the end when he put one into his own net off the post.
Dortmund also need a win to right the ship: a draw, combined with an Arsenal win, eliminates them. So Napoli, in theory, can lock it up at the back. Whether that is a wise choice against a side that has one of the deadliest finishers in the game, Robert Lewandowski, is debatable. But Dortmund are pretty weak at the back, which can be exploited by Napoli’s counters: Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic are out long-term and Marcel Schmelzer is out at least three weeks, forcing the club into signing the aging Manuel Friedrich as cover. Napoli will be missing their captain, Marek Hamsik after he suffered a foot injury Saturday in a loss against Parma.
Elsewhere, Chelsea look to avenge their shock loss to Basel on matchday one, and secure their berth in the next round. A point will see them through, while a win will ensure they win Group E. This is a different Chelsea side than the one the Swiss faced in September, with Jose Mourinho instilling his trademark steel into the side. Their ruthless efficiency on the weekend against West Ham, and the play of Eden Hazard and Oscar in paticular, suggests that it could be a long night for Basel.
Celtic must beat AC Milan to stay alive, a tall order indeed. While the Glaswegians have not embarrassed themselves this season, their loss in Amsterdam to Ajax put them bottom of Group H. The Dutch side face already qualified Barcelona; Milan can join them if they win at Parkhead over Neil Lennon’s men.
Last but not least, already-qualified and perfect Atletico Madrid face Zenit away in the early start (live, FOX Soccer Plus, Tuesday, 12 p.m. ET). The Russians realistically need a home win, but they have shown little in this year’s tournament. Porto can profit at home against a terrible and toothless Austria Vienna side (live, FOX Soccer 2Go, Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET); the Austrians have yet to score a goal this year.
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