Arsenal v Barcelona, Champions League quarter-final first leg, March 31, 2010
This tie has had everyone salivating at the thought of two games which should be packed full of technical brilliance and eye catching football. Two teams who share similar philosophies meet in an encounter that many hoped would be the final and some have even called for each side to be given a ball so that we can enjoy both Arsenal and Barcelona.
Pep Guardiolaâ€™s Barcelona side travel to London and are favourites for the tie after winning six titles in 2010 and with Lionel Messi (5.00 to be first scorer) in their ranks. The Catalan giants also bring with them former Arsenal captain Thierry Henry who is set to take up a huge amount of attention on Wednesday night. (Barcelona are 2.87 to win the Champions League.)
Henry has declared that it will be â€œemotionalâ€ to play against the club where he made his name in eight goal-laden seasons, in truth though the French national team captain is far from certain to start. The injury to Andres Iniesta means Henry (3.00 to score) could well start on the left of a forward three but he has only played 90 minutes twice for Barcelona in 2010 and Pedro could be preferred by Guardiola.
Lionel Messi has taken up much of the press attention ahead of the first leg, the Argentinean has been in sensational form of late in what has been a mesmerizing season to match his displays of 2008/2009. â€œThe Fleaâ€ will fancy his chances of getting the better of Gael Clichy down the Arsenal left and he could well do some serious damage.
The Gunners backline will also be wary of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (2.60 to score). The Swedish striker has scored three in his last three matches and he has broken the deadlock in the last two games deep into the second half. Dani Alves is another key member of the Barcelona side and the Brazilian has continued to show his quality this season. Gerard Pique, Yaya Toure and Xavi have all been passed fit for the first match and the latter will be key to dictate the pace of the match.
It will also be intriguing to see how the Barcelona defence stands up to a team who can control possession nearly as well as they can. More often than not the Catalans dominate the ball, sometimes with well over 60% of possession, but defensively, the likes of Maxwell at left back and Victor Valdes in goal, could be suspect if put under pressure. (1.31 on Barcelona or the draw.)
For Arsenal, the main fitness worry surrounds captain Cesc Fabregas (2.75 to score) who picked up a knee injury in the shattering late 1-1 draw at Birmingham. Abou Diaby is also a slight doubt after picking up a knock but Samir Nasri and Andrey Arshavin (8.00 to be first scorer) will start after appearing off the bench at St Andrews. Thomas Vermaelen will also return from suspension and will partner Sol Campbell in the centre of the defence.
To play at a similar level to Barcelona, Arsene Wenger will be looking for some big performances from his lesser rated players. Nicklas Bendtner (3.00 to score) will be expected to lead the line as he claims he can and Manuel Almunia will be eager to impress following his horror show at Birimingham.
Fabregas, if he plays, will also be desperate to impress against his old club and a host of his Spanish national team mates. The playmaker has been consistently linked with a move back to Barcelona and he will be key to Arsenalâ€™s hopes in this tie. Wenger hinted that it may be difficult to lift his players after Birmingham, but this is no time to wallow with the best team in the world heading to the Emirates.
With the first tie at home, Arsenal will be well aware that they have to play tight defensively (1.93 to be under 2.5 goals, 1.71 to be over). A clean sheet would be a major surprise but Arsene Wenger will be confident his team can score in the Nou Camp, so a narrow win at home or draw would leave the tie delicately poised.
Hopefully the first leg will live up to much of the hype.
101gg predicts: Arsenal 2 â€“ Barcelona 2 (13.53)