MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) delivers his verdict on the Champions League last-16 clash in the Camp Nou on Wednesday night.
Barcelona v Arsenal | Wednesday 19.45 | BT Sport Europe
Arsene Wenger believes his side are more than capable of upsetting the odds on Wednesday night but trailing 2-0 from the first leg, best-priced quotes of 28/1 for Arsenal to qualify appear kind. It’s just not happening.
It’s unfortunate, really. Wenger got his tactics spot on at the Emirates as the Gunners contained and countered Barcelona to reasonable success for the first 70 minutes – if Arsenal had been more clinical in the final-third, a positive result wasn’t of the question.
However, two lapses of concentration were punished by Lionel Messi and a sixth successive Champions League exit at the last-16 stage looks almost certain with a trip to the Camp Nou next on the cards for the out-of-form Gunners.
Wenger’s men topped the Premier League table at the turn of the year but two wins from their last nine league fixtures has seen the capital club drop 11 points off pacesetters Leicester – a sackable offence in my eyes. And growing calls for the French boss to step down intensified after Sunday’s FA Cup exit to Watford.
A first trophyless season in three beckons for Arsenal whose only success in seven has come against Championship outfit Hull. With only eight knockout wins from 25 in this competition since 2008, and knowing Bayern Munich are the only team in 12 seasons to see beat Barcelona by at least two goals at the Camp Nou, the Gunners task does look insurmountable.
To make matters worse, the Londoners make the journey without Petr Cech, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with Mikel Arteta rated doubtful. However, there’s a crumb of comfort for Wenger with Laurent Koscielny deemed fit to play.
Meanwhile, Barcelona will be missing Gerard Pique through suspension and it’s telling that the all-conquering hosts have conceded in four of the last five games the Spanish international has missed. Indeed, Barca’s backline has leaked in four of their last six Camp Nou outings so Arsenal should be capable of playing their part in a high-scoring encounter.
Barcelona are aiming to become the first team since AC Milan in 1990 to win back-to-back Champions League titles and the Catalans have been in record-breaking form with their last 19 reading W18-D1-L0– the only match Barca failed to win was a Copa del Rey second leg clash with Valencia, fielding a reserve XI having held a 7-0 lead on aggregate.
It’s eight wins on the spin for Luis Enrique’s troops, 10 on the trot as hosts, with the club already clinching Spanish Super Cup and Club World Cup trophies this term. Another Copa del Rey final is booked in, the La Liga title is as good as sewn up and so Barca are on course to complete the first ever ‘double treble’.
If we look at their Champions League record, the Catalans have W16-D2-L2 since the start of last season – never failing to score – with 12 of those victories achieved by a margin of at least two goals. At the Camp Nou under Luis Enrique, the Blaugrana boast an unblemished W9-D0-L0 record, scoring 24 goals and shipping just four.
When welcoming Champions League opposition in the knockout stages, only Bayern Munich in 2013 have managed to achieve a win in the last 23 matches here since 2008 and between them, the superstar front-three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have scored more goals this season than EVERY club in the top-five leagues bar Real Madrid and Dortmund.
The last eight duels between these two teams have produced an average of 3.60 goals-per-game; Barca have struck at least twice in 16 of their most recent 19 Champions League ties with Arsenal grabbing a goal in each of their last six on the continental road– chuck in the fact that 12 of the hosts’ last 14 at the Camp Nou have featured four or more goals and we’re a goals angle appears strong.
Barcelona to win and Both Teams To Score is 13/8 (Betfair) and I’ll have a wee poke seeing as it’s proven profitable in 13 of the last 22 Camp Nou encounters dating back to September with the likes of Levante, Las Palmas, Eibar and Rayo Vallecano all contributing to the final score despite defeats.
Barcelona v Arsenal – Barcelona to win and Both Teams To Score (13/8 Betfair)
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