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Europa League: Arsenal rolls, Chelsea cruises, Milan saves it late

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The Europa League group stage is nearing a finality, and while Premier League sides Arsenal and Chelsea had already confirmed safe passage to the knockout stage before Thursday’s matches, both had successful results.

Arsenal played in the early slate, with their game in Ukraine moved to Kiev from Poltava for safety concerns amid the tense political climate. The Gunners won 3-0 on a trio of first-half goals, with 18-year-old Emile Smith-Rowe opening the scoring just 10 minutes in. Many of Arsenal’s first-teamers, including Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, and others stayed home and did not make the trip. That gave teenagers like Smith-Rowe, Joseph Willock, and Eddie Nketiah an opportunity to start, with Smith-Rowe’s opener leading the way as Willock also found the back of the net. Aaron Ramsey scored as well, bagging a penalty after being clumsily fouled by Igor Perduta.

Chelsea, meanwhile, stayed at home to welcome Greek side PAOK to Stamford Bridge, and the Blues cruised 4-0 after the visitors went a man down just seven minutes in. 31-year-old Ukranian international Yevhen Khacheridi was sent off in the early stages of the match for a last-man foul, tackling Olivier Giroud just outside the box. It took 27 minutes before Chelsea was able to break through, but Giroud would get the first of his brace with a pinpoint left-footed strike. Giroud would hit again before halftime, before Callum Hudson-Odoi ripped the third for the Blues and substitute Alvaro Morata finished it off in the 78th minute.

Villarreal drew 0-0 with Scottish side Rangers to put them in pole position of a crowded Group G. Rangers striker Daniel Candeias was sent off just before halftime for a second yellow, leaving the hosts in a position of peril, but they held on the rest of the way. All teams came into the matchday within two points of each other, and after Thursday’s results the Spanish club sits atop the group with seven points, while Rapid Vienna is also on seven after beating Spartak Moscow 2-1 in Russia, but the Austrian club has a far worse goal differential.

AC Milan – this season’s cardiac pack – came back from 2-1 down to beat Luxembourg club F91 Dudelange 5-2. They drew level in the 66th minute on an own-goal, and then stormed by with a trio inside the final 20 minutes. Hakan Calhanaglou got the winner in the 70th minute, while Fabio Borini added one late with 10 minutes to go. Milan has not officially secured advancement to the knockout round in Group F, but would need to lose to Olympiakos by three or more goals on the final day to see the Italian side out.

Meanwhile, Olympiakos ended up on the outside looking in with a 1-0 loss at Real Betis, which sent the Spanish side officially through Group F. Sergio Canales scored his third goal in his last four matches across all competitions to put Betis into the knockout stages.

Bayer Leverkusen secured advancement to the knockout stage after Mitchell Weiser rescued a 1-1 draw with Ludogorets Razgrad with a ridiculous 85th minute goal. The 24-year-old German struck a bouncing right-footed volley from an incredibly tight angle that snuck in under the crossbar to put Leverkusen on 10 points with a match to go.

Sevilla had a chance to secure a place in the knockout stage with a win in Belgium, but they were stunned by Standard Liege 1-0 on a goal from 20-year-old Mali international Moussa Djenepo who struck in the 62nd minute. Six minutes later, Sevilla saw substitute Pablo Sarabia sent off for a second yellow, and while they still finished with 70% possession, the Spanish side could not find a breakthrough. That leaves Standard and Sevilla level on nine points, although Sevilla still holds a far superior goal differential.

A messy Group I got no clarity as Jermaine Lens gave Besiktas a 3-2 road win over Sarpsborg with a 90th minute goal, leaving the top three teams in the group all within a point headed into the final day. Genk and Malmo drew 2-2, leaving Genk atop the group with seven points and a better goal differential, while Besiktas sits at seven as well and Malmo is behind them at six, and Sarpsborg is still in the mix with five.

The goal of the day came from Apollon Limassol, as David Faupala stunned Italian side Lazio with a bicycle kick just past the half-hour mark in Cyprus. The home side eventually won 2-0, but Group H has already been decided, with the Italian club already into the knockout round.

Elsewhere, French side Marseille suffered a disappointing defeat in Germany at Eintracht Frankfurt 4-0. The visitors had already been eliminated from the competition before stepping on the field, but they saw Serbian striker Luka Jovic bring his good Bundesliga form to Europe, with the opener inside the first minute. It got worse for the French club when Luiz Gustavo was credited with an own-goal when he put a back-pass in his own net as goalkeeper Yohann Pele was in a haze outside his own post.

Red Bull Salzburg won the battle of the Red Bulls as they defeated RB Leipzig 1-0 in Austria. Fredrik Gulbrandsen had the game’s only goal in the 74th minute which confirmed Salzburg’s way through to the knockout round, and left the German side in a precarious position in Group B, three points and two goals back of second-placed Celtic. Speaking of the Scottish club, Brendan Rodgers saw former Manchester City winger Scott Sinclair score the game’s only goal in a 1-0 victory for Celtic over Rosenborg in Norway.

Sporting CP put six past FK Qarabag in a 6-1 victory which included a brace from former Arenal midfielder Abou Diaby. Bas Dost opened the scoring just five minutes in, while former Manchester United veteran Nani also grabbed a goal 33 minutes in. The win officially saw Sporting qualify for the knockout stage behind Group E leaders Arsenal.

Dynamo Kiev beat Kazakhstani club Astana 1-0 to take control at the top of Group K, while Dinamo Zagreb played to a 0-0 draw with Turkish side Fenerbahce in a match between two teams that are already through into the knockout stage. Stade Rennes stayed in contention in Group K with a 1-0 road victory over Czech club FK Jablonec. French international Clement Grenier scored the lone goal in the 55th minute to pull Rennes within two of Astana.

FULL RESULTS:

Vorskla 0-3 Arsenal
Zenit St. Petersburg 1-0 FC Copenhagen
AC Milan 5-2 F91 Dudelange
Rosenborg 0-1 Celtic
Real Betis 1-0 Olympiakos
FK Qarabag 1-6 Sporting CP
Standard Liege 1-0 Sevilla

Bayer Leverkusen 1-1 Ludogorets Razgrad
FC Astana 0-1 Dynamo Kiev
Fenerbahce 0-0 Dinamo Zagreb
FC Zurich 1-2 AEK Larnaca
FC Salzburg 1-0 RB Leipzig
Bordeaux 2-0 Slavia Prague
BATE Borisov 2-0 Vidi
Anderlecht 0-0 FC Spartak Trnava
Krasnodar 2-1 Akhisar Belediyespor

Vardy: Leicester playing to make Srivaddhanaprabha proud

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The Leicester City fanbase, employees and squad have been in mourning since the tragic events following Leicester City’s 1-1 draw last Saturday. It’s been an unthinkably tough week for the team and the family of former owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, and according to striker Jamie Vardy, the players were offered the chance to postpone this Saturday’s game against Cardiff City.

Instead, Vardy and the team came to a unanimous decision. They’ll play the game.

“We need to make sure we do him proud on the pitch,” Vardy told the BBC. “Everyone came to a unanimous decision, we get out there and make sure we prepare for an important game. “It was a tough decision [to play at Cardiff]. But knowing what Vichai would have wanted meant it was an easier decision to make.”

Leicester City manager Claude Puel has said that the match result is “not important,” and it will be interesting to see the emotion the Leicester players play with when they take the field. Following the match, the squad will all travel to Bangkok to pay their respects at Srivaddhanaprabha’s funeral.

The club had already canceled its Carabao Cup match with Southampton that was set to take place on Tuesday.

Arsenal top Sporting Lisbon for 11th-straight win

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  • Leno faces zero shots in clean sheet
  • Both teams attempt 14 shots
  • Welbeck scores winner

Arsenal picked up three points through an opportunistic Danny Welbeck in a 1-0 win Europa League win at Sporting Lisbon on Thursday.

The Gunners played a solid if unspectacular away match in their toughest test of the group stage.

Arsenal leads Group E with nine points, three points better than Sporting Lisbon and six clear of Vorskla Poltava.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]

Sporting keeper Renan Ribeiro had more to do than his Arsenal counterpart in the first stanza of the game, but the Portuguese hosts did come to life as the half wore on.

Nani whizzed a shot over the goal at the half-hour mark, taking advantage of a Rob Holding error.

A quick free kick from Nani early in the second half cued Fredy Montero for a chance that missed the frame.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s rip at the other end may have been headed wide, but Ribeiro palmed it away.

The visitors were ultimately the better team on the night, and would’ve felt aggrieved to not find the winner had former Sunderland and Liverpool man Sebastian Coates not put the ball on a platter for Welbeck.

That’s no slight to Welbeck, who lashed a shot between Ribeiro’s legs.

Stephane Lichtsteiner injured his shoulder in stoppage time, and later took a head-first challenge from Coates.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League tests for Arsenal, Chelsea

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Arsenal is ready for the biggest test of its Europa League campaign so far: a trip to the Estádio José Alvalade to meet Sporting Lisbon in the first of two group stage matches.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil start on the bench for the Gunners, who have a spot for Danny Welbeck next to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Leno, Lichtsteiner, Sokratis, Holding, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Elneny, Ramsey, Mkhitaryan, Welbeck, Aubameyang. Subs: Martinez, Jenkinson, Mustafi, Torreira, Iwobi, Ozil, Lacazette.

Sporting CP: Renan, Ristovski, Coates, Andre Pinto, Acuna, Petrovic, Gudelj, Battaglia, Bruno Fernandes, Nani, Montero. Subs: Salin, Bruno Gaspar, Mathieu, Miguel Luis, Mane, Diaby, Jovane.

12:55 p.m. ET Thursday kickoffs

AC Milan vs. Real Betis
Copenhagen vs. Slavia Prague
Zenit Saint-Petersburg vs. Bordeaux
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Rosenborg
Zurich vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Anderlecht vs. Fenerbahce
Sporting Lisbon vs. Arsenal
F91 Dudelange vs. Olympiacos
Qarabag vs. Vorskla Poltava
AEK Larnaca vs. Ludogorets Razgrad
Spartak Trnava vs. Dinamo Zagreb
RB Leipzig vs. Celtic


Later, Chelsea will entertain BATE Borisov from Belarus in a bid to continue its perfect start to the Europa League campaign.

3 p.m. ET Thursday kickoffs

Villarreal vs. Rapid Vienna
Sevilla vs. Akhisar Belediyespor
Marseille vs. Lazio
Rennes vs. Dynamo Kiev
PAOK vs. MOL Vidi
Standard Liege vs. FC Krasnodar
Chelsea vs. BATE Borisov
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Apollon Limassol
Besiktas vs. Genk
Jablonec vs. Astana
Sarpsborg vs. Malmo
Rangers vs. Spartak Moscow

Europa League preview: Arsenal’s biggest test yet; Chelsea to rest stars

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Arsenal has a very tricky few days ahead of itself, facing the toughest test of its Europa League group stage before returning home for a London Derby against Crystal Palace in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Champions League Weds. wrap ]

A trip to Sporting Lisbon is first, with Bruno Fernandes and Nani poised to knock Arsenal of its perch atop Group E. Both sides have defeated Vorskla Poltava and both have knocked off Qarabag, with Arsenal leading its Portuguese opponents on goal difference.

Unai Emery is very, very focused on Thursday. From Arsenal.com:

“This is a very, very big match and important for our confidence and to try to continue working tactically on the things  with the players with a lot of respect for them. We want to win against Sporting.”

Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri is keeping the Premier League fixtures in the forefront as his Blues host BATE Borisov in the Europa League on Thursday.

The Blues will face Burnley at Turf Moor, and will be looking to keep their undefeated league record in tact following a 2-2 draw with Manchester United. Sarri will be giving some rest to his stars’ legs. From ChelseaFC.com:

“We need to think and be careful. For instance Jorginho needs to rest now as he played two 90 minutes in two match for the Italy national team and then nearly 100 minutes in our last game, so it is time to rest for him. Tomorrow Eden Hazard is out for sure. He has a back problem,’ the boss continued. ‘We are trying to solve the problem for Sunday,’.”

Other key matches include Celtic seeking a big result at RB Leipzig, AC Milan and Real Betis squaring off for Group F’s driver’s seat, and Rangers hosting Russian opposition in a bid to keep up a surprise run through Group G.

Elsewhere

12:55 p.m. ET kickoffs
AC Milan vs. Real Betis
Copenhagen vs. Slavia Prague
Zenit Saint-Petersburg vs. Bordeaux
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Rosenborg
Zurich vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Anderlecht vs. Fenerbahce
Sporting Lisbon vs. Arsenal
F91 Dudelange vs. Olympiacos
Qarabag vs. Vorskla Poltava
AEK Larnaca vs. Ludogorets Razgrad
Spartak Trnava vs. Dinamo Zagreb
RB Leipzig vs. Celtic

3 p.m. ET
Villarreal vs. Rapid Vienna
Sevilla vs. Akhisar Belediyespor
Marseille vs. Lazio
Rennes vs. Dynamo Kiev
PAOK vs. MOL Vidi
Standard Liege vs. FC Krasnodar
Chelsea vs. BATE Borisov
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Apollon Limassol
Besiktas vs. Genk
Jablonec vs. Astana
Sarpsborg vs. Malmo
Rangers vs. Spartak Moscow