After showing their Premier League credentials following no-nonsense wins over title pretenders Leicester and Bournemouth, Arsenal players would be itching to take the field as quickly as possible. This time around however, the stage and test both would be unique on many levels.
Arsene Wenger’s in-form charges are set to host current European champions Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 at the Emirates and would be aware that this match-up would be completely different to the games they’ve been playing recently.
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Bar the FA Cup draw against Hull City, the London giants have not slip-up nor have they shown any lapses in concentration – a trait that never seemed to leave Wenger’s side in recent years.
Nonetheless, Barcelona will not be a straightforward opponent over the course of two legs.
Luis Enrique’s men have more or less strolled their way towards defending their domestic crown, thanks to an attacking front three that shows no signs of stopping. Neymar and Lionel Messi have carried on from how they performed last season but perhaps the biggest revelation (which shouldn’t come as a surprise) is Luis Suarez who already has 41 goals under his belt this season, 14 more than his Argentine teammate and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Catalan giants have found the net on 25 occasions in the last 8 games which should be a grave concern for Arsenal who have scored more goals on the road than at home.
Cech; Monreal, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Bellerin; Coquelin, Ramsey; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Sanchez; Giroud.
Ter Stegen; Alba, Pique, Mascherano, Alves; Busquets, Sergi Roberto, Rakitic; Messi, Suarez, Neymar.
Based completely on Barcelona’s form, Enrique’s men look a pretty decent price of 4/6 to take the spoils here and take a first leg advantage back to the Nou Camp. Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez have scored 81 goals across all competitions in Spain this season, which is a remarkable record considering the Gunners have scored only 60 across their entire team.
Those hoping that the Gunners can find some inspiration can back the home win at 4/1, although with Arsene Wengers’ side not exactly firing on all cylinders in recent weeks, a 1-1 draw would not be the worst result for Arsenal fans, which can be taken at a price of 6/1
Predicted final score: Arsenal 1-3 Barcelona