Prior to taking on Barcelona in the first leg there was a renewed optimism amongst Arsenal fans as they had recently beaten league leaders Leicester to get back in the title race and they remained on course for a third straight FA Cup. However, the 2-0 defeat at The Emirates seemed to be the catalyst for the Gunners season imploding and now their fans are calling for Wenger to get the sack. Since that first leg defeat they’ve lost two and drawn one in the league to slip eight points off the pace and they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Watford at home on Sunday to leave their season in disarray.
In contrast Barcelona have been imperious, asserting themselves at the top of La Liga while breaking records along the way - surpassing the 34 games without defeat in all competitions set by Real Madrid in 1988/89. The Catalans have won their four league fixtures since the first leg, netting 17 times in those games. The only time they’ve failed to win in their last 19 matches in all competitions was a 1-1 draw against Valencia in the second leg of the Cup – but they did have a 7-0 first leg advantage.
Just eight wins from their 25 knockout matches since 2008 highlights Arsenal’s lack of recent success in this competition. It is their first-leg record that so often causes the damage as 75% of their successes have come in the second-leg where their record reads a very respectable W6-D1-L5. Despite winning three and drawing one of their last four last-16 second leg ties they’ve still been knocked out after suffering heavy first leg defeats (mostly at home). Wenger’s side often struggle against Europe’s big guns, as a W3-D2-L8 record since 2009 against top-three sides in our rankings illustrates, and arguably no side has ever been as strong as this current Barca one. Eight of these matches saw both teams score and half the last 12 had at least four goals.
Barcelona have won 16/20 Champions League matches under Luis Enrique including all nine at the Nou Camp and 12 of the 16 victories were by two or more goals. They’re formidable at home in the knockout stages as only Bayern in 2013 have won in 23 matches here since 2008. In that time they’ve hosted English sides on five occasions in second legs and have won four of them, while both teams have also scored in four.
It’s very difficult to see how a struggling Arsenal are going to stop the likes of Neymar, Suarez and Messi (who has nine in his last five), so we wouldn’t put off anyone backing the Spanish side -2.0 on the Asian Handicap. However, the hosts are without the suspended Pique and they’ve conceded in four of the last five he’s missed. Moreover, the Gunners have scored in their last nine consecutive second legs while the first leg was the only time Arsenal have failed to score against Barcelona in eight UCL matches. Despite being on a shocking run since that 2-0 defeat they’ve netted in every game and we can see them doing so again here.
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