I’ve checked the record books and as we approach our eleventh birthday at Blue Square, we have never priced Arsenal at a bigger price than 9/2 to win a game. I’m pretty sure the record would go back a little longer than that, in fact tonight’s quote of 7/1 for a Gunners’ victory is possibly the biggest price they have EVER been for a 90 minute contest. Arsene Wenger’s injury ravaged side boarded an Easter flight to the Catalonian capital level in the tie at 2-2 despite a first-half battering at the Emirates last Wednesday. The Spanish champions will also have their fair share of absentees, but home advantage and greater strength in depth has sealed their quote as 4/11 favourites. With those two away goals Pep Guardiola’s team can also progress to the Semi-Finals with a low scoring draw either 0-0 at 12/1 or 1-1 at 8/1. The only passage to extra-time and penalties will be a 2-2 draw at 18/1, any draw is a 4/1 chance.
Optimistic Arsenal fans have talked about snatching a 1-0 win at Camp Nou and therefore an unlikely progression to the last four. That plan is based on the home side failing to score and on the evidence of last week that is frankly improbable. An Arsenal clean sheet is priced at 6/1 and backers at that price will need an outstanding 90 minutes from Spaniard Manuel Almunia in the Arsenal goal. Wenger’s side will be missing the defensive spine provided by the injured Alex Song and William Gallas, so you’d have to expect their goal to be peppered with at least as many shots as six days ago. Mikael Silvestre or Sol Campbell could be partnering Thomas Vermaelen in the centre of the visitors’ defence and that will have the Barca forwards rubbing their hands together. Barcelona also have problems in defence with Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique both suspended and for that reason an Arsenal goal is not a forlorn hope at what looks a very short price of 8/13. Due to the defensive absences we are also quoting one of the shortest prices for ‘4 or more goals’ that I can remember. It’s just 5/4 that this game at least matches last week’s total.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic eventually got the first goal of last Wednesday’s game after plenty of wasted chances, he will be missing tonight after picking up an injury at the weekend. Likely replacement Bojan Krkic is 6/1 to score first tonight with superstar Lionel Messi an 11/4 favourite in the same market. Some people have commented that Messi had a quiet game at the Emirates but even his presence contributed to a number of fluid attacks and space for his teammates. The Argentine is 8/11 to score at anytime and 5/4 to score in any victory for his team. Arsenal’s injury woes were evidenced by the resting of eventual match winner Nicklas Bendtner against Wolves on Saturday. That Wenger has sought to protect his third choice striker before this game shows how deep his injury-list runs. Bendtner is 10/1 to score first and 3/1 to score at anytime. Theo Walcott was hailed as the player that changed the first-leg and that could have earned him a starting role tonight. The Englishman is 16/1 to score first, 11/2 to score anytime and 18/1 to score in any Arsenal win.