Barcelona are favourites, but don’t count out Arsenal at the Nou Camp

Barcelona v Arsenal, Champions League quarter-final second leg, April 6, 2010

Barcelona 1.34; Draw 4.73; Arsenal 7.74

After last week’s thriller at the Emirates, arguably the finest game of the season so far, what do Barcelona and Arsenal have in store for the second leg at an expectant Nou Camp?

Intriguingly, both sides will look rather different from the starting line-ups at the Emirates due to a host of injuries and suspensions leaving key players out. Both Barcelona and Arsenal should also be confident of securing progression.

The Catalan side are favourites and will feel their first leg draw with Stuttgart followed by a convincing win in the second leg is the recipe for a semi-final berth this time. Whilst Arsenal are seemingly never beaten as they proved once again with a 94th minute winner against Wolves on Saturday to continue their incredible title charge.

The Gunners have now scored the winner in stoppage time of their last three matches and scored in the last 10 minutes in their last nine games. Bendtner’s winner to secure a 1-0 victory versus Wolves crucially kept the momentum going and the Gunners can give their all as they don’t play in the Premier League until a north London derby at White Hart Lane eight days after their visit to the Nou Camp.

Arsene Wenger faces a number of selection dilemmas. Cesc Fabregas, William Gallas and Andrey Arshavin are all out after picking up injuries in the first leg and the Spanish playmaker will be a real loss against his former club. Sol Campbell could replace Gallas but the veteran defender may struggle to play twice in four days so Alexandre Song could drop back into the Arsenal defence.

The other big decision for Wenger centers around Theo Walcott. The England winger was a revelation in the first leg at the Emirates coming on and changing the game as he showed his team mates that Barcelona are in fact human. With Nicklas Bendtner set to lead the line, Walcott is expected to start on the right but may float through the middle in the hope of taking advantage of the absences due to suspension of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique.

Besides the lack of their first choice centre back partnership, Pep Guardiola is also facing up to a second leg without Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede, who scored a double in the first leg, and could have scored four or five, picked up an injury in the warm-up to the 4-1 win over Athletic Bilbao and will likely be replaced by Saturday night’s two-goal hero Bojan Krkic.

A number of players were rested for the Nou Camp victory over Bilbao and Guardiola may prefer one of those, Thierry Henry, to Bojan. Andres Iniesta could make a comeback from injury after a short lay-off for the visit of the Gunners and Eric Abidal seems sure to start after his return from a longer absence against Bilbao.

Pep Guardiola seems likely to stick with Maxwell at left back and partner Abidal with Gaby Milito in the middle. Much will depend on Barcelona’s dominance in the middle with Xavi, Busquets and Messi hoping to produce their first half masterclass at the Emirates.

This is the start of a huge week for Barca as they travel to Real Madrid for the match of the season at the Bernabeu next weekend. The home crowd will expect to progress past Arsenal to secure a semi-final berth and inch their way to another final and a second trip this season to Real Madrid’s home ground.

Arsenal, who have to score, cannot be written off as they have proved countless times this season. The Gunners need to show the spirit and dogged defending that brought them countless trophies under George Graham, but with Theo Walcott a constant threat on the break and a seemingly unbreakable spirit, they have a real chance of stunning the holders.

101gg predicts: Barcelona 3 – Arsenal 2 (27.77)

Barcelona 1.34; Draw 4.73; Arsenal 7.74


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