Arsenal cruises past Marseille, draws closer to Champions League knockout rounds

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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.

Tuesday’s win at the Emirates was so comfortable thanks to that stunningly fantastic start; Jack Wilshere’s opener, slicing up a porous Marseille back line, was finished beautifully with a curler into the upper corner.

Wilshere’s first goal in Champions League matches this year was also the fastest ever by an England player in the competition. He hit a second after the break as the Gunners went top of their UEFA group, but Dortmund’s brave win over Napoli means Wenger and Co. must wait until the final day of group play to officially book its spot.

Arsenal blew a brilliant chance for a second after 36 minutes when Aron Ramsey was taking down a step outside the penalty area. Spanish referee Mateu Lahoz was well-positioned but mistakenly pointed to the spot anyway. Mesut Ozil, having done so much to shape Arsenal’s ongoing, intriguing bid for a Premier League crown, will have better moments; the German attacker saw his so-so spot shot saved well by Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.

But still the chances came for Arsenal against a French club that seemed less than interested in being in England, having made six changes from the weekend and probably more focused on gaining increased traction in its wayward Ligue 1 campaign. Arsenal stroked the ball around comfortably through long stretches.

Tomas Rosicky was among the brighter in Arsenal red, enjoying a night of little tricks and feints while helping drive his team’s midfield matters.

Olivier Giroud, enjoying a breakout campaign for Gunners, nearly broke through just before the half; he was upending just outside the penalty area, although Ramsey’s driven free kick could not evade the Marseille wall.

The important night remained in the balance through almost 70 minutes despite all of Arsenal’s ball-hogging and bossing. Finally, the second came as good work from Ramset set Ozil free down the right. Ozil quickly fed the breaking Wilshire in front of goal, and the Englishman had his second.

The sigh of relief managed, the Emirates came alive anew with song.

Wojciech Szczesny made one swell save at the near post as Marseille found some pride near the end but only managed a handful of mini-threats.

Club World Cup wrap: Gremio reaches final, Urawa takes fifth place

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One half of this year’s FIFA Club World Cup final was decided on Tuesday as Brazilian side Gremio topped Liga MX champions Pachuca.

Second-half substitute Everton proved to be the difference for the Brazilians, with the attacker scoring in extra time to lift Gremio.

[ MORE: LA FC selects Urena, four others in MLS Expansion Draft ]

Pachuca’s chances of completing a comeback were extinguished with 10 minutes remaining in extra time, as Víctor Guzman was sent off upon picking up his second yellow card of the semifinal.

Meanwhile, Japanese side Urawa Red Diamonds captured fifth place in the tournament after narrowly topping Wydad Casablanca, 3-2.

Despite going behind early, Urawa responded almost immediately in the first half, before building its lead to 3-1 at the hour mark.

A late penalty kick from Reda Hajhouj gave Casablanca a glimmer of hope in the dying moments, however, the Moroccan-based club couldn’t find a way to equalize.

Gremio will await either La Liga giants Real Madrid or Al Jazira in the Club World Cup final, which will be played on Saturday. The loser of that match will take on Pachuca in the third-place game.

Below are the scores from Tuesday’s FIFA Club World Cup matches.

Gremio 1-0 Pachuca (after extra time)

Wydad Casablanca 2-3 Urawa Red Diamonds — Fifth-place match

LAFC selects Urena, 4 others in MLS Expansion Draft

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Los Angeles FC selected five players in the MLS Expansion Draft, including Costa Rican national team star Marco Urena.

Whether they’ll make their way to the City of Angels is another story.

The first pick from general manager John Thorrington was goalkeeper Tyler Miller from Seattle Sounders.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Going next was Latif Blessing from Sporting KC, an electric attacker who netted thrice with an assist last season.

Next was Urena from San Jose and the Costa Rican national team, a huge addition, and then Columbus left back Jukka Raitala before closing up the draft with Raheem Edwards from Toronto FC.

LAFC has already announced the signings or acquisitions of Carlos Vela, Walker Zimmerman, Carlos Alvarez, Monday Etim, and Guillermo Vizcarra.

The club will also loan Omar Gaber from Basel and Rodrigo Pacheco from Lanus.

WATCH LIVE: Three Premier League matches

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Chelsea visits the John Smith’s Stadium to face Huddersfield Town in one of three Premier League fixtures this chilly Tuesday in December (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues are now 14 points back of Manchester City, and three points clear of fifth place.

Meanwhile there are a pair of matches on NBC Sports Gold: Burnley looks to keep pace with its Top Four ambitions when it hosts struggling Stoke City, while in-form Crystal Palace seeks a home win that would move it out of the drop zone. In its way? Dangerous, attack-minded Watford.

Burnley vs. Stoke City — 2:45 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Crystal Palace vs. Watford — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

FIFA bans Colombia midfielder Cardona 5 games for gesture

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has banned Colombia midfielder Edwin Cardona for five matches for making a discriminatory gesture with his eyes toward a South Korean opponent.

FIFA will allow Cardona to serve the ban in friendly games, so he should be available for Colombia’s World Cup opener against Japan on June 19.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

Cardona has also been fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,150) because of the incident last month in a friendly in Seoul.

Cardona apologized at the time, saying he “didn’t mean to disrespect anyone, a country or a race, but if anyone felt offended, or interpreted it in that way, I am sorry.”