Arsenal supporters will be praying for a miracle as their side travel to Barcelona planning to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit in their Champions League round of 16 tie with the holders (7.45pm Wednesday, BT Sport Europe).
The Premier League outfit suffered another setback in their quest for silverware at the weekend, with Watford knocking the FA Cup holders out of this year’s edition of the tournament at the quarter-final stage with a 2-1 victory at the Emirates Stadium.
It was another disappointing performance and result that leaves Arsenal facing the prospect of another season without a trophy. After all, Barcelona’s lead looks insurmountable given the fact they have not lost at home by a two-goal margin since a 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey in February 2013, while Leicester City are currently 11 points clear of the Gunners at the summit of the Premier League standings with just nine rounds of fixtures remaining.
Barcelona continued their march towards another La Liga title by thrashing Getafe 6-0 on Saturday afternoon, with the Catalans currently in possession of a healthy eight-point lead ahead of second-placed Atletico Madrid. As well as retaining their domestic crown, Luis Enrique’s side are aiming to become the first side to win Europe’s foremost continental club competition in back-to-back years since Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan triumphed in both 1989 and 1990. While there is still a long way to go until this year’s trophy is handed out, it is already clear that a team containing a front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar – not to mention a midfield trio of Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets and a back four of Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba – will be very tough to stop.
Arsenal will be without Petr Cech (calf), Aaron Ramsey (thigh), Santi Cazorla (achilles), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Tomas Rosicky (thigh) and Jack Wilshere (calf) for their trip to Catalonia, while Laurent Koscielny is a major doubt.
Danny Welbeck (pictured) is likely to be selected at centre-forward ahead of Olivier Giroud to offer Arsenal a pacey outlet at the top of the pitch, with Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny set to continue their partnership in the centre of midfield for the third time in the north Londoners’ last four games. Alexis Sanchez, who has scored just twice in his last 12 appearances in all competitions, will be desperate to make an impact against his former club.
Enrique, meanwhile, will be unable to call upon Pique (suspended), Sandro Ramirez (abductor) and Rafinha (knee), but Busquets will return to the starting XI after sitting out the triumph over Getafe. Mascherano is likely to be restored to the heart of the backline, with Suarez, Rakitic and Alves set to be fresher after also playing no part at the weekend. Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barca’s deputy goalkeeper in the league but first choice in Europe, will be between the sticks for the first time since the first leg.
It is extremely difficult to see Arsenal avoiding defeat at the Camp Nou, let alone picking up the two-goal victory that would see them either force an extra 30 minutes or advance to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2010.
The Gunners’ poor form in 2016 and Barca’s relentlessness this calendar year means a comfortable home win is by far the most likely outcome on Wednesday night, with a 4-1 scoreline offering good odds across the board.
There is inevitably little value in backing Messi, Neymar or Suarez to get on the scoresheet, so a punt on Welbeck finding the back of the net after converting three goals in the seven matches since his return from a lengthy injury lay-off last month could be one that is worth making.