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Friday, Nov. 25, 2011

Arsenal clears group as Chelsea hits skids


LONDON — Arsenal might be the only English club that makes it through to the knockout rounds of the Champions League this season.

News photo
Ahead of the game: AC Milan's Ignazio Abate heads the ball as Barcelona's Lionel Messi looks on during Barca's 3-2 Champions League win at the San Siro on Wednesday. AP PHOTO

A day after Manchester United and Manchester City both missed the chance to qualify, Chelsea conceded a last-minute goal to lose 2-1 at Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday and risk missing out for the first time since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003.

Leverkusen advanced alongside Arsenal, which beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1 through two goals by Robin van Persie, while APOEL also went through in one of the biggest surprises in Champions League history.

APOEL drew 0-0 at Zenit St. Petersburg to become the first ever Cypriot side to make it past the group stage.

Elsewhere, AC Milan twice equalized but Spain playmaker Xavi Hernandez scored in the 63rd minute to give defending champion Barcelona a 3-2 win and top spot in its group. Both teams had already secured a spot in the knockout round.

Valencia routed Genk 7-0 for the biggest Champions League win ever by a Spanish side, Porto kept alive its hopes of advancing with a 2-0 win at Shakhtar Donetsk and Olympiakos won 1-0 at Marseille.

Dortmund dominated the opening exchanges against Arsenal and had the home side under pressure even after injuries to Sven Bender and Mario Goetze midway through the first half.

But Van Persie headed in Alex Song's 49th-minute cross at the far post and tapped in with four minutes left to take his season tally to 21 goals and end Dortmund's resistance.

Japan forward Shinji Kagawa got a goal back for the German champions deep in injury time but Arsenal clinched Group F with one of its six matches remaining.

With the Premier League having provided seven of the last 14 finalists, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said he was surprised his club was the first English club through — but not that his rivals were finding things tough.

"The level has gone up a lot. You never win an easy game in the Champions League," Wenger said. "I have 150 games in the Champions League as a manager and they are never easy."

Arsenal has 11 points from five matches, four more than Marseille. Olympiakos is a point further back after substitute Giannis Fetfatzidis scored in France with eight minutes remaining, while Dortmund has four points and must beat Marseille on Dec. 6.

But Dortmund will be without Bender for that game after the midfielder broke his jaw in a challenge on Thomas Vermaelen. Coach Juergen Klopp said Bender needs surgery in London before he can return to Germany.

Chelsea looked on course to complete an English double over the Bundesliga — and maintain the west London club's record of reaching the knockout round in each of its nine straight tournament appearances — when Didier Drogba put the Blues ahead in the 48th.

Instead, Leverkusen equalized in the 73rd as Sidney Sam drew out goalkeeper Petr Cech before crossing for Switzerland striker Eren Derdiyok to head into an empty net. Manuel Friedrich then scored another header in injury time to pile further pressure on Blues manager Andre Villas-Boas.

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