Arsenal vs Barcelona. UEFA Champions League First Knockout Round.
Wednesday 24 February 2016 18:52, UK
Arsenal are set to recall several first-team players for Tuesday's Champions League last-16 first-leg tie at home to Barcelona.
Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Petr Cech should return to the starting line-up after they were left out on Saturday as Arsene Wenger made nine changes for their goalless FA Cup fifth-round draw against Hull City.
The Gunners have not lost since late January, but the visit of Barcelona marks the start of a critical period of fixtures with Manchester United and title rivals Tottenham to come before their FA Cup replay on March 8.
Barca, who have come out on top in each of their three previous Champions League encounters with Arsenal, will be without the suspended Arda Turan for the game at the Emirates.
Wenger rested a number of his key men against Hull with the first-leg against the Catalan outfit in mind.
But, while the likes of Ozil, Ramsey and Cech will return to the squad, Jack Wilshere (leg), Gabriel (hamstring), Santi Cazorla (knee) and Tomas Rosicky (thigh) are all still missing.
Turan will be absent through suspension for the first leg for Barca, while Rafinha remains injured. Douglas, Sandro Ramirez and Marc Bartra have all been left at home.
Arsenal, who finished second in Group F behind Bayern Munich, are the only team alongside Real Madrid to have reached the knockout stages of the Champions League every season since the new format in 2003/04.
Barcelona have won the Champions League in four of the last 10 seasons. No other team has won it more than once in the same period.
Arsenal and Barcelona's seven previous Champions League encounters have produced 27 goals, an average of 3.86 per game.
Lionel Messi has scored six goals in four Champions League games against Arsenal. However, he has yet to score at the Emirates with Barcelona.
Arsenal have scored in their last 13 Champions League games, their best run since their 21 games in a row from October 2003 to November 2005.
Barcelona have won 15 of their 19 Champions League games since last season (D2 L2). They've also never failed to score in those 19 games.
I'll be a nervous wreck in the Sky Sports studio every time either Messi, Neymar or Luis Suarez get the ball and the fans at the Emirates will feel the same.
I think Arsenal know they need to take a risk and go for it. What would be a comfortable result to take to the Camp Nou? Is 3-0 even enough to make them favourites to go through?
Olivier Giroud has to have a right go at Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano, Alexis Sanchez will be up for playing his old club and it's another chance for Ozil to show he can shine among the stars. However, it's Cech that I'm really hoping will show just how important he is.
I'm expecting Barca to get a result which will leave them as huge favourites, and I do like Sky Bet's 6/1 for Sanchez and Suarez both to score.
Charlie predicts: 2-2 (12/1 with Sky Bet)
Barcelona are Sky Bet's 4/6 favourites to establish a first-leg lead, with Arsenal 19/5 to take an advantage to the Nou Camp while a stalemate is priced at 3/1.
Luis Enrqiue's men are rated 9/4 favourites to win the Champions League while their hosts' odds drifted out from 16/1 to 33/1 after being handed the toughest possible draw. Messi heads the first goalscorer betting at 100/30 closely followed by Saurez (7/2), while Giroud is considered the Gunners' main threat at 15/2.
The Soccer Saturday pundits and Jamie Redknapp, who nailed a 20/1 scorecast in last Tuesday's tie, have all provided Sky Bet with their tips here.