Arsenal v Celtic, Champions League, August 26, 2009
Leading 2-nil from the first leg and sparkling so-far in the Premier League, Arsenal are in pole-position to confirm their spot in the Champions League group stages. This leaves us wondering whether the return tie of the Battle of Britain will be anything more than a formality for the Wenger Boys, or can Celtic actually come back to spring the surprise of surprises on Wednesday night.
Those clutching at straws for a Celtic revival at the Emirates have several lines which they optimistically trumpet before kick-off.
First off is the old, and not so scientific approach, of boasting that the Scots have nothing to lose. With the odds so heavily stacked against the Bhoys, Tony Mowbray’s charges should feel free to express themselves and go for the proverbial broke status.
Looking for a more factual angle, Celtic will also be encouraged by their superb away performance at Dymano Moscow in the last round of the Champions League. Not only were Cetic able pick up a collector’s item of an away win in Europe, but the Super Hoops also managed to record a clean sheet in Russia – Celtic’s first on the road in Europe for six long years. (Celtic are 6/1 to keep a clean sheet against Arsenal.)
Lastly, Celtic will also be hopeful that they have the talent to breach the Gunners defence. So far this season, particularly in the SPL, Celtic have excelled at expressing attacking flair and invention, with the Bhoys full-backs and wide-men picking up the plaudits. Specifically, Andreas Hinkel and Danny Fox have looked impressive at joining the attack and supplying decent balls into the danger areas, while wingers Shaun Maloney (11/2 to score) and Aiden McGeady (6/1 to score), who have both scored this season, have started the new year in menacing fashion.
With Mowbray set to deploy two strikers from the get-go at the Emirates, most likely Scott McDonald (7/2 to score) and Marc-Antoine Fortune (4/1 to score), the Scots will believe they have enough quality to get on the scoreboard and give themselves a chance of the upset.
The problem for Celtic though will be keeping Arsenal at bay. Already this season, seven different players have scored for Arsenal, while the likes of Robin van Persie (4/1 to score first), Andrei Arshavin (EVS to score) and Nicklas Bendtner have all yet to get off the mark.
Should Celtic try and play their expansive game and attack the Gunners at every opportunity, Arsenal will no doubt be presented with counter-attacking situations which will offer these stars chances to break their ducks for the season.
To counter this obvious difficulty, Celtic will need to be defensively rock-solid. Yet this is where things start to fall apart for the Bhoys, as question-marks hang over the talents of Scott Brown and Massimo Donati in the centre of the park. Further back, Gary Caldwell has been anything but a linchpin in the Celtic rear-guard, with mistakes continually permeating from the club’s vice-captain.
A silver lining for Celtic will be the absence of Cesc Fabregas from the Arsenal midfield. But with Abou Diaby (4/1 to score), Alex Song, Denilson and Aaron Ramsey all primed to step into the breach, the Gunners have plenty of options at their disposal.
101predicts: Arsenal 3 – Celtic 1 (10/1)
Full match odds here.