The goalless draw with Hull City was hardly the perfect introduction into the Champions League clash against Barcelona, a team that eliminated the Gunners from the competition on two occasions in the 21st century. And with the Catalans on fire at the moment, Arsenal face a tough task of attempting to keep the MSN trip quiet for large periods of the game.
While the current season cannot be considered a success just yet, Arsenal are definitely on the right track as they are still vying for three major trophies. The Premier League title chase definitely has the priority at the moment, but the Gunners probably wouldn’t mind reaching the final stages of the FA Cup and Champions League as well. Arsene Wenger’s charges experienced some problems in January as numerous injuries and hectic schedule caught up with them, but they have since shown a great deal of improvement. And with the likes of Sanchez, Welbeck and Coquelin back in action, and Cazorla and Wilshere expected to return soon, things are definitely looking up for the North London outfit. Arsenal didn’t exactly manage to build on the important victory over Leicester City as the under-strength side failed to defeat Hull City in the FA Cup, but the hosts are determined to prove their worth in the highly anticipated clash against Barcelona, although the back line will have their work cut out for them when facing the likes of Messi, Suarez and Neymar.
Alexis Sanchez will be fit to start after fully recovering from a hamstring problem, while a number of first team regulars will be recalled.
Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky remain sidelined, but Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott are pushing for starting places.
The weekend’s results in La Liga saw Barcelona close on the title defence as slip-ups by Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid allowed the Catalans to move eight points clear at the La Liga summit. A huge advantage is likely to help Luis Enrique’s charges in the Champions League campaign given that the team can now fully focus on Europe’s elite competition, while at times fielding weakened sides in La Liga. The clash with Arsenal comes at a good time for Barcelona, who have 13 wins in last 14 matches, with the MSN trio playing to the best of their abilities. The Catalans are well aware that the Gunners have problems at the back even though they have improved in said department of late and that is something they will be looking to exploit. Barcelona are unbeaten in last 15 away games (W10 D5), and they will want to win at the Emirates, having failed to emerge victorious from their previous two visits at Arsenal Football Club.
Summer recruit Arda Turan misses the trip to North London through suspension, while Thomas Vermaelen is in contention to face his former club.
Marc Bartra, Sandro Ramirez and Douglas Pereira are not in the squad, but Ivan Rakitic and Aleix Vidal should be recalled.
Key Factors to Consider
- Both teams have scored in each of seven meetings between Arsenal and Barcelona
- The Catalans won the 2006 Champions League final against the Gunners
- Arsenal are unbeaten in last two home games vs Barca (W1 D1)
- The Gunners lost three CL games already this season
- Barcelona have six wins in last seven matches on the road
Arsenal have done pretty well in high-profile matches at the Emirates, but with some key men still lacking fitness and the back line far from impressive, we don’t think they have what it takes to match in-form Barcelona. The Catalans rarely disappoint in these kinds of games and we are backing them to emerge victorious.
Verdict: Away win
Best Odds: 8/11
Bookmaker: William Hill