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Champions League Group G

British trio have Euro vision

Chris Hammer previews Wednesday's Champions League action and feels Chelsea, Arsenal and Celtic can all win.

Last Updated: 06/11/13 at 22:29 Post Comment

Arsenal will be looking for revenge against Dortmund

Arsenal will be looking for revenge against Dortmund

Chelsea's six-match winning streak in all competitions came to an unexpected halt on Saturday when they suffered a shock defeat at struggling Newcastle, but few will view that as anything other than a blip as they prepare for what should be a routine home victory in the Champions League.

Considering the Blues had been made Premier League title favourites a week earlier following their last-gasp 2-1 win over Manchester City - which preceded an impressive 2-0 triumph at Arsenal in the Capital One Cup - only brave punters would have backed a Magpies side still wounded from a derby loss to Sunderland.

There's been no shortage of surprise results this season, with Chelsea being on the receiving end of another when Basel stunned them 2-1 at Stamford Bridge in the opening week of group stages back in September.

That night seemed to kick Jose Mourinho's men, who had also just lost 1-0 at Everton in the top-flight, into life and until last weekend they'd chalked up eight wins in nine games across all competitions with the other being a highly-creditable 1-1 draw at fellow title hopefuls Tottenham.

This charging run also included a 3-0 thumping of Schalke at the Veltins Arena a fortnight ago although the two-goal hero of that night, Fernando Torres, is ruled out of this return clash with a leg injury.

The absence of the revitalised Spaniard is certainly a notable blow for a side whose strikers have generally struggled to find the net this season so they'll probably have to rely on their wealth of attacking midfielders once again to get the job done.

That said, you'd think whoever gets the nod to start out of Samuel Eto'o or Demba Ba will be hungry to make the most of their opportunity although it makes sense to wait for the line-ups to be announced before making any first or anytime goalscorer bets.

And even then, the likes of Juan Mata (7/1), Andre Schurrle (11/2) and Oscar (7/1) would still be a better bet to strike first than the 5/1 available on the mis-firing duo.

While Mourinho suggested complacency may have been a reason for Saturday's poor result, there shouldn't be any of this on display on Wednesday night as they search for the three points which will see them take a giant step towards the knockout stages.

Schalke clearly looked short of the necessary quality to trouble Chelsea in the previous meeting but they do come into this encounter on the back of three wins from four in the Bundesliga - and the only defeat in that run came against Borussia Dortmund.

Nevertheless, I'm expecting Chelsea to be back on their game and therefore feel a bet on the Blues to win to nil at 5/4 is the way to go.

Meanwhile, Arsenal also face German opposition although their task is far more daunting in what is now effectively a three-way battle to progress from Group F.

Had the Gunners held on for a valuable draw against Borussia Dortmund last time out, they'd be in an extremely strong position at the top of the group with seven points.

But they didn't.

Robert Lewandowski's late winner eight minutes from time ensured Dortmund joined the Gunners and Napoli on six points, putting Arsene Wenger's hopes of guiding his side to the knockout stages for the 11th season in a row in serious danger.

Heading into that clash on the back of a superb start to the season, the defeat seemed to knock a little bit of the stuffing out of Arsenal and they followed it up with an unconvincing 2-0 win at rock-bottom Crystal Palace, who were unlucky to find Wojciech Szczesny in such good form, before being knocked out of the Capital One Cup by Chelsea.

But Wenger's men are seemingly made of sterner stuff this season and promptly bounced back with a deserved 2-0 triumph over Liverpool on Saturday to move five points clear at the top of the Premier League.

Aaron Ramsey made sure of all three points with a sublime 25-yard half-volley which took his impressive personal goal tally for the season to 10 so I'm sure there's plenty of punters who will be interested in backing him at 11/1 and 4/1 in the first and anytime scorer markets against Dortmund on Wednesday night.

The Welsh star is oozing with confidence and clearly looks like a player who feels he can score from anywhere right now.

Ramsey struck what proved to be the crucial winning goal at Marseille in their previous away game in the competition while he also netted in both home and away legs against Fenerbahce in the qualifying round.

Whether another goal at Signal Iduna Park will be enough for Arsenal to grab at least a point is another question given Dortmund's own array of attacking talents.

Not that I pay too much attention to historical records which often have little relevance to the here and now, but some may be interested to know that Dortmund have never lost against English opposition here and on Wednesday night they'll be understandable clear favourites to come out on top.

Jurgen Klopp's men, who are 4/6, are chasing what would be an eighth successive home Champions League win while they've also won all eight of their games at the Westfalenstadion this season.

They warmed up for the visit of the Gunners with a crushing 6-1 victory over VfB Stuttgart, where Lewandowski plundered a hat-trick, to keep them within one point of Bundesliga leaders and European champions Bayern Munich.

However, last year's runners-up will be wary at Arsenal did beat Bayern at the Allianz Arena back in March during their defeat on the away goals rule in the last 16 and it was that result which kick-started a superb end of season charge that they've carried on into this campaign.

At his press conference on Tuesday, Wenger said: "We take belief from Bayern. We play everywhere to win and that will not change of course, we will have a positive attitude in our approach to the game.

"It is difficult to predict what will happen, that is what makes football great. Dortmund are positive, we are very positive. At least that will guarantee both teams will try to win the game."

Although the Gunners head to Germany without Jack Wilshere, who is nursing an ankle problem, I still feel they could nick this one especially if Ramsey and Mesut Ozil are on top form but would rather side with them in the win-draw double chance market - for which they are 11/10 - due to Dortmund's superb home record..

Celtic are gearing up for a pivotal clash in Amsterdam against an Ajax side who simply must win to keep alive their slim hopes of progression to the last 16.

After back-to-back defeats against AC Milan and Barcelona, the Hoops picked up three priceless points with a 2-1 win over the Dutch outfit at Parkhead and another victory over the same opponents on Wednesday night could see them leap into second place.

It's probably fair to rate Neil Lennon's men as underdogs but the odds of 100/30 about the away win does seem quite generous.The Celtic boss was quite right to point out that Ajax were "very unfortunate" not to beat Milan on home soil but going as far to suggest they're "as good as Barcelona" on their day is a slight exaggeration to say the least.

Frank De Boer's side are currently only sixth in the Dutch Eredivisie and head into this clash on the back of a 1-0 home defeat to Vitesse Arnhem.

While De Boer suggested Celtic will sit back for a draw at the Amsterdam ArenA at his press conference on Tuesday, the visitors may get a number of opportunities on the break as Ajax look to push forward.

I wouldn't go as far as saying I'm confidently backing an away win, but the price does offer some value in my eyes.


Champions League score verdicts


Zenit 1 Porto 1

Ajax 1 Celtic 2

Atletico Madrid 4 Austria Vienna 0

Barcelona 3 AC Milan 0

Chelsea 2 Schalke 0

Borussia Dortmund 1 Arsenal 2

Basel 1 Steau Bucharest 0

Napoli 2 Marseille 1

  • Wednesday's Champions League matches all start at 1945 GMT except for Zenit v Porto which begins at 1700 GMT, and are being televised live in the UK on Sky Sports.

  • Posted at 2345 GMT on 05/11/2013.


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