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Arsenal, Barca aim to build on perfect starts

Updated: 2013-10-22 07:26
By Agence France-Presse in Paris ( China Daily)

Champions League groupings could tighten up after key matchups across the board this week

Arsenal and Barcelona, two of European soccer's giants, will be looking to make it three wins out of three when the Champions League resumes this week.

Group E

Steaua Bucharest (ROM) vs Basel (SUI): Steaua Bucharest, the 1986 champion, is looking for its first points in the Champions League this season after defeats to Schalke and Chelsea. The Bucharest club, which won its 24th Romanian title last season, has won just four of 38 group matches over seven campaigns, picking up 11 draws. Its last victory came at Dynamo Kiev in 2006 while its most recent home win was against Widzew Lodz in 1996. Basel, semifinalist in the Europa League last season, could not build on its surprise 2-1 matchday one victory at Chelsea, losing 1-0 at home to group leader Schalke last time out. It currently leads the Swiss league.

Schalke (GER) vs Chelsea (ENG): Chelsea and Schalke last met in the 2007-08 group stage, with the match in Germany ending scoreless while the English club was a 2-0 victor at Stamford Bridge thanks to Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba. Schalke is hoping to welcome back goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand from a back injury, while US midfielder Jermaine Jones and Ghana star Kevin-Prince Boateng should be fit after knee injuries. But Schalke looks to be without defensive midfielder Marco Hoeger, who twisted his knee against Braunschweig in a 3-2 win on the weekend. Chelsea badly need a win in Gelsenkirchen to build on its 4-0 win at Steaua Bucharest. Chelsea is unbeaten in its last six games since its shock defeat at home to Basel and has scored 10 goals in its last three games. Ashley Cole is likely to miss the match after suffering a rib injury while Germany winger Andre Schuerrle, who missed Saturday's 4-1 win over Cardiff with a thigh injury, could return along with Spain striker Fernando Torres.

Group F

Arsenal (ENG) vs Borussia Dortmund (GER): Premier League leader Arsenal and Dortmund, last season's Champions League runners-up, faced each other in 2011-12 when two Robin van Persie strikes gave Arsenal the points at home despite Shinji Kagawa's injury-time reply. Van Persie and Ivan Perisic were on the scoresheet in a 1-1 draw in the return game. The Gunners are in the group stage for the 16th season in a row. For the sixth time in eight campaigns they had to negotiate a qualifying round, dispatching Fenerbahce 5-0 on aggregate in the playoffs with Aaron Ramsey scoring three times. Arsenal has managed to move to the top of the Premier League, two points ahead of Chelsea and Liverpool, without a number of key players such as Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski. Mathieu Flamini might miss Tuesday's game after sustaining a concussion in Saturday's 4-1 win over Norwich. Dortmund is second in the Bundesliga, a point behind Bayern Munich, after a hard-fought 1-0 win at home to Hanover on Saturday. The German side is without midfielder Nuri Sahin, who has an ankle injury.

Marseille (FRA) vs Napoli (ITA): Brazilian defender Lucas Mendes will miss the game after suffering an ankle injury in Friday's 1-0 defeat at Nice. With two defeats from its first two Group F matches, Marseille must beat the Italians to keep its knockout stage hopes alive. Napoli could be without Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain who has a thigh strain. Goran Pandev is likely to start for a Napoli team which has so far beaten Borussia Dortmund but lost to Arsenal.

Group G

Porto (POR) vs Zenit St Petersburg (RUS): Zenit's record signing Hulk will make an emotional return to the club where he scored 78 goals. The 27-year-old Brazilian has started to show form for Zenit this term - after a troubled first season in which some of his teammates objected to his wages - scoring seven goals in eight league appearances. Zenit is on a hot streak with seven league successive wins but has just a single point from its European campaign. Porto has three points and will be looking to preserve its unbeaten home record against Russian sides which stands at five, although the last time these two were in the same group, it was Zenit who progressed to the last-16.

Austria Vienna (AUT) vs Atletico Madrid (ESP):

Atletico suffered its first league defeat of the season, 1-0 at Espanyol on Saturday. Diego Simeone's men have two wins from two in the Champions League, including an impressive comeback victory at Porto. Atletico is likely to be without Brazilian youngster Leo Baptistao, who has a sprained ankle, and will most likely be replaced by 25-year-old Diego Costa, who has missed two games through suspension but is the Liga leading scorer with 10 goals. He will be keener than ever to impress Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque as he seeks to make the squad for next year's World Cup finals in his birthplace of Brazil.

Group H

Celtic (SCO) vs Ajax (NED): The Scottish champion desperately needs a result in the first of two clashes with Ajax, but will be without captain Scott Brown, who is suspended following his red card against Barcelona, and Kris Commons, who went off early in a draw with Hibs on Saturday with a hamstring strain. Winger James Forrest looks set to start after scoring a fine goal. Ajax drew 1-1 with league leader Twente on Saturday and will be looking to put itself in position for the Europa League spot, having garnered one point in a 1-1 draw with Milan in its previous match.

AC Milan (ITA) vs Barcelona (ESP): Milan could count itself fortunate to have grabbed a point against Ajax, a last minute penalty by Mario Balotelli forcing the draw. But the talented striker is likely to be a key absentee as he suffered a thigh injury in last week's World Cup qualifier with Armenia. Milan is also likely to have to call on third choice goalkeeper Marco Amelia as Christian Abbiati is injured and Gabriel, who played on Saturday, was not on the list of the Champions League squad. Meanwhile, in something of an aberation, Barcelona, looking for its third win in three group games, failed to score in a league match for the first time since January 2012 with a 0-0 draw with Osasuna. Carles Puyol made his first start after a seven-month absence due to knee surgery while four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi came on for the final quarter after sitting out several games with a thigh strain.

(China Daily 10/22/2013 page23)