Celtic v Arsenal, Champions League, August 18, 2009
Celtic’s reward for their triumphant 2-0 win in Dinamo Moscow was to draw the short straw by being paired up against Arsenal in the final round of the Champions League qualifiers. The Battle of Britain may have neutrals drooling, but for the two teams involved, the reality is that failure to reach the lucrative group stages is unthinkable.
Although Dinamo proved that it is possible to leave a raucous Celtic Park with the points, the Bhoys will naturally be determined to right their wrong of their last home Champions League game. With the added spice of playing against the auld English enemy, the Scots will have that extra incentive to up their performance against the Gunners, and there are plenty of reasons for Celtic to be in buoyant mood.
Showing their killer instinct, Celtic warmed up for the tie with the North Londoners by blitzing Aberdeen in the first half on Saturday. Two goals from Aiden McGeady (5/1 to score) and one from Scott McDonald (7/1 to score first) proved decisive, however of particular interest was the new formation adopted by Tony Mowbray in his debut SPL match.
The former Baggies boss has decided to start the season with two out-and-out wingers in the form of McGeady and Shaun Maloney (4/1 to score), with his wide-men found dovetailing either side of a calm and stable central-midfield base of Massimo Donati and Landry N’Guemo (8/1 to score).
Up-top Celtic also look dangerous and full of options, with new signing Marc-Antoine Fortune (9/4 to score) injecting pace and guile in the attack, while sharp-shooter McDonald is continually kept on his toes with the likes of Georgios Samaras waiting in the wings replace the Aussie in the forward-line.
It’s not all good news for Celtic though, as on the injury-front the Bhoys will have concerns about Loovens and Maloney who were forced off early against the Dons with a variety of knocks and minor injuries. Hope is high that they will be available come Tuesday night.
Against Arsenal, the Scots will be tested to the extreme.
Having blown Everton off the park in their Premier League curtain-raiser, many will now be revising their theories of the year ahead for the Wenger Boys. Scintillating passing, devastating finishing, total control, and the killer instinct were all present at Goodison Park on Saturday, and if Cesc Fabregas (4/1 to score) can continue to play the season in the same manner in which he started then Arsenal may no longer be the dark-horses for this year’s title.
Against the Toffees everything clicked, but that isn’t to say history will repeat itself in every match Arsenal play this season. On their day the Gunners are virtually unplayable, but pretty possession does not always translate into cold, hard goals. (Celtic are 9/4 to keep a clean sheet.)
The match at Celtic Park will see Andrei Arshavin represent the Gunners for the first time in the Champions League, and with the mercurial Russian strangely quiet against the Toffees the former Zenit playmaker will be hungry to open his account for the year.
In attack, despite the departure of Adebayor, Wenger now looks to be flooded with options. Nicklas Bendtner (2/1 to score) showed some excellent touches and link-up play in the season’s opener, Robin van Persie (11/2 to score first) remains a constant goal threat, while Eduardo da Silva (7/4 to score) only needed a cameo appearance to break his duck for the season against David Moyes’ men.
If Arsenal play to their potential then the Bhoys will have a tough time getting something out of the game. However, if Tony Mowbray can organise his troops to stifle and frustrate his opponents south of the border, then perhaps the focus will once again shift on whether the likes of Denilson, Song, Diaby and Vermaelen can cut-it at the top level.
101predicts: Celtic 1 - Arsenal 1 (6/1)
Ful match odds here.