Arsenal, PSG eye top spot as Group B trio jostle

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez, who scored a hat-trick in their 5-1 rout of West Ham on Saturday, trains for their final Champions League group-stage match against FC Basel.
Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez, who scored a hat-trick in their 5-1 rout of West Ham on Saturday, trains for their final Champions League group-stage match against FC Basel.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS • As Paris Saint-Germain joust with Arsenal for top spot in their Champions League Group A, Napoli, Benfica and Besiktas will battle it out today for the two last-16 slots in Group B.

The three clubs have everything to play for in their final pool games as the only one of the eight first-phase groups in which no side have yet secured a berth.

Napoli and Benfica are joint top of the group on eight points, one ahead of Besiktas. Dynamo Kiev are bottom with two.

Benfica should have secured their passage on match-day five but threw away a three-goal lead at Besiktas to finish 3-3.

That Turkish comeback has left the group outcome on a knife-edge with Besiktas knowing that a win at eliminated Dynamo Kiev will send them through.

Besiktas will hope that their previous-best showing - a 1987 European Cup quarter-final appearance - will not prove a poor omen. Back then, they lost 0-7 on aggregate - to Dynamo Kiev.

The final round of games also pits Benfica against Napoli and the winners in Lisbon will qualify as group winners. A draw would be enough to send Napoli through, given their head-to-head edge with Besiktas.

If Besiktas lose, both Benfica and Napoli will progress regardless.

"As far as we're concerned, we have to go there looking for the win," said Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri.

"It will be a difficult game, and it could be two different games in one. For the first 70 minutes it could all be normal, then in the final 20 minutes, it could go one way or the other."

Beyond the tightest group of the season, the final round of games is all about securing pole position as group winners and a theoretically softer last-16 draw.

It has been tight at the top throughout in Group A where there is nothing to choose between Arsenal and PSG, both of whom are through and level on 11 points.

Arsenal travel to Basel, while PSG host Ludogorets in their final group games. Both Basel and Ludogrets are winless after five games.

Barcelona have already won Group C at the expense of Manchester City, who nonetheless accompany the Catalan club through.

Atletico Madrid won Group D by a distance and are the only club in the competition with a perfect record as they prepare to do the double over runners-up Bayern Munich.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2016, with the headline 'Arsenal, PSG eye top spot as Group B trio jostle'. Print Edition | Subscribe