Arsenal v Barcelona
Wednesday February 24, 6:45am
While Barcelona chase a place in the Champions League’s last eight for a ninth consecutive season, Arsenal are trying to make the quarter-finals for the first time since 2010.
In that 2010 quarter, the Gunners were matched with Barcelona. The pair drew 2-2 in London, before Leo Messi scored four times in the second leg. A year later, the Catalans lost a Last 16 first leg 2-1 at the Emirates then won the tie at the Camp Nou again.
Since that second encounter, however, Arsenal have lost three home first legs in a row at this stage of the competition (to Bayern Munich in 2013 and 2014, then Monaco last season). Barcelona, meanwhile, won Last 16 first legs on the road at Manchester City in 2014 (2-0) and 2015 (2-1).
Right now, Barcelona are unbeaten across all competitions for over four months. Luis Enrique brings an almost full squad to London this week, with only Arda Turan ruled out through suspension, and the visitors start as odds-on favourites to take a lead back to Spain.
Holding an eight-point lead at the top of La Liga, the Catalans can make this game the sole focus of their attention. In the thick of a four-team title race and with a trip to Old Trafford coming up this weekend, Arsenal do not have the same luxury. We fancy Barca to justify the odds.
Match Odds & Both Teams to Score
If you’re looking for an odds-against punt, we like the idea of adding the Barcelona win to a bet on both teams to score.
The Spanish champions have conceded at least once in 12/17 Champions League away games since the start of 2013. They have, however, scored at least twice in each of their last four Liga away games and should still have too much firepower for their hosts.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
Eight of Barcelona’s last 15 first-leg away games have produced Over 2.5 Goals, which is a 1.69 favourite for this match.
To date, there have been exactly 100 Last 16 first legs since the Champions League switched to its current format in 2003/04. A majority of those games (61) have ended with Under 2.5 Goalsand that’s more than enough to put us off anything in this market.
Under Luis Enrique, Barca have scored on 9/9 trips to top-six La Liga teams and we expect them to find the back of the Arsenal net this week.
Who is the visitors’ man most likely to? Well, Luis Suarez has hit 41 goals in 37 club appearances this season. Since the end of January he’s scored on seven consecutive outings. Since late October, he’s struck at least once in 19/24 games for Barcelona and rates a bet above the shorter-priced Leo Messi, who has nonetheless scored in 14/20 since late November.