Celtic can give Arsenal a run for their money

By Online Editorial

Arsene Wenger

Arsenal’s 6-1 thrashing of Everton was arguably the performance of the first day of the Premier League season, but Celtic and Celtic Park will offer a different sort of challenge and one Arsenal will have to overcome if they want to be playing Champions League football.

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Recommended Bets: Back Under 2.5 Goals at 17/20; Lay Arsenal at 27/25 to win

After just one round of the English and Scottish domestic seasons, European football is upon us. In fact, it was upon some people, including Celtic, the second-best team in Scotland last season, even before now. They had to get past Dinamo Moscow just to reach this play-off round of the Champions League. The winner of this two-legged tie with Arsenal will enter the 32-team group stage of the Champions League proper.

Arsenal have contested eleven consecutive group stages, and this is the fourth season in a row that they have had to go through the play-off round. That is not to say Celtic, without such a record, or Tony Mowbray, their new manager (last seen in Europe helping Hibernian lose to OB Odense in the 2006 Intertoto Cup), would be excused not knowing how the competition works.

What is new to Arsenal is the prospect of a competitive match with a Scottish club. The Gunners have never played one before, but they fired on all cylinders at the weekend as they marmalized Everton 6-1 in their first Premier League game of the new campaign.

Meanwhile, Celtic won their own weekend fixture 3-1, against Aberdeen but that was in the SPL so we can’t read too much into it. Aiden McGeady, who, if memory serves correctly, was supposed to terrorise Barcelona in last season’s Last 16, did exactly that to the Dons on Saturday. He is probably one of the reasons why Arsene Wenger told the press this week that the Bhoys were man enough for the English Premier League; the biggest reason, presumably, being the avoidance of l’oeuf sur son visage if the worst happens.

Celtic have a solid record in matches with English teams on home soil, winning four and drawing three of eight such games. Most recently they’ve managed a 1-1 draw and a 1-0 win against Manchester United. Actually, the Scots have been difficult to beat whomever the opposition.

In the last eight years, they have won 17 of 25 home games in the Champions League. Teams who have come to Celtic Park and failed to win include Juventus, AC Milan, Lyon and Sir Alex Ferguson’s aforementioned rabble. Two of the three defeats came against Barcelona. Less excusably, the third came last month against Moscow.

Eighteen of that quarter-century of games have included Under 2.5 Goals (a 1.85 shot for this game). Fifteen have been dull enough to finish with Under 1.5 Goals (3.5). Last season, six of Arsenal’s seven games away in Europe produced Under 2.5 Goals (four went Under 1.5 Goals).

Going back to the beginning of 2005/06, the much-purred over Gunners have not been as exciting as many would imagine, and those trends remain strong: 18/24 Under 2.5 Goals; and 13/24 Under 1.5 Goals. The doubtfulness around the availability of Glenn Loovens, the home team’s Dutch centre-back, may be a cause of concern to some of those pondering these bets.

In 2005/06, Wenger’s team reached the final, notching a W4-D2-L0 away record along the way. Since then, they have lost as many as they have won on the road (W7-D4-L7). Very recent results are not on-side with this bet, and neither, probably, is your qualitative analysis of the relative strengths of these two teams, but longer-term records suggest a (small) lay of Arsenal at 2.08 would be prudent. Alternatively, the hosts can be backed at 3.15 in the Draw No Bet market.

It should be noted, however, that the London club won the away legs of its play-off ties in each of the last three seasons (2-0 v FC Twente last season, 2-0 v Sparta Prague in 2007/08, and 3-0 v Dinamo Zagreb in 2006/07), although none of those opponents had anything close to Celtic’s home record. You will notice they have not conceded in any of those matches, which might be enough to make the Arsenal Clean Sheet attractive at 2.62.

Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. © The Sporting Exchange Limited

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