Robin van Persie scored twice for Arsenal in London last night as the Gunners beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1 to seal first place in their group. Bayer Leverkusen defeated Chelsea 2-1 on an injury-time goal and APOEL tied 0-0 at Zenit St. Petersburg.
“We were in a difficult group,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, whose team had to play a qualifying match to reach the group stage, said at a news conference. “I am very happy and pleased if you see where we came from.”
In other games, defending champion Barcelona won 3-2 at AC Milan, Valencia routed Genk 7-0, Olympiakos beat Marseille 1-0, Porto won 2-0 at Shakhtar Donetsk, while Viktoria Plzen defeated BATE Borisov 1-0.
Barcelona and AC Milan had already secured their places in the last 16 of Europe’s elite club competition along with Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Benfica and record nine-time champion Real Madrid. The final seven spots will be decided next month in the last round of group matches.
At the Emirates Stadium in north London, Van Persie continued his scoring form with two second-half goals to take his club tally for the season to 17 in 18 games. Dortmund, which drops to last place, got a late goal through Shinji Kagawa.
“He is in a period where he doesn’t have to look for goals, they just come naturally for him,” Wenger said of Van Persie. “He is always in the right place at the right moment.”
Van Persie opened the scoring four minutes after halftime, heading in at the back post after Alex Song skipped past three defenders and crossed for the Dutchman. Van Persie then secured the win in the 86th minute.
Arsenal has now reached the knockout stage for 12 straight seasons. The Gunners top Group F with 11 points, Marseille has seven, Olympiakos six and Dortmund four.
Substitute Giannis Fetfatzidis’s 82nd-minute goal at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome gave Olympiakos the victory.
Manuel Friedrich headed Leverkusen’s winning goal to complete a comeback in Group E against Chelsea, which led in Germany on Didier Drogba’s goal just after halftime. Eren Derdiyok had tied the game on 73 minutes soon after being introduced as a substitute.
Chelsea has now lost four of its last seven games in all competitions and is in danger of missing out on a last-16 spot for the first time in nine seasons.
“In this competition if you make a mistake you pay a heavy price,” Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas said in comments on UEFA’s website. “We must improve, we have no excuses. If we want to go to the next step we have to do better.”
Roberto Soldado scored a hat trick in Valencia’s biggest- ever win in European competition. The Spanish team is tied with Chelsea on eight points, one behind Leverkusen. A win for either club at Stamford Bridge on Dec. 6 will guarantee qualification.
APOEL extended its unbeaten record in Group G to become the first team from Cyprus to advance out of the group stage. Its match in Russia yesterday was halted during the second half after several flares were thrown onto the field, causing smoke to drift across the stadium.
“I am the happiest man in the world,” APOEL coach Ivan Jovanovic told reporters. “We have achieved something which three months ago we had no right to even dream of.”
Zenit can still join APOEL in the next round, though it is now only one point ahead of two-time European champion Porto ahead of their Dec. 6 meeting in Portugal. A strike from Hulk and an injury-time own goal by Razvan Rat secured Porto’s win at Ukraine’s Shakhtar.
Barcelona will advance as the Group H winner and avoid other first-place teams in the next stage after beating AC Milan. Mark van Bommel’s own goal, Lionel Messi’s penalty and a strike by Xavi Hernandez secured the victory, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kevin-Prince Boateng replying for the home team.
Czech club Viktoria Plzen moved ahead of BATE Borisov in the race for third place, and qualification for the second-tier Europa League, with a Marek Bakos goal separating the teams.