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Champions League Play-Off Preview: Arsenal – Celtic

Kick-Off: Wednesday 26 August 2009, 19.45 BST,
Emirates Stadium, London


Lucky Arsenal?

Arsenal welcome Celtic to the Emirates on Wednesday night with one foot already in the Champions League proper.

A 2-0 win at Parkhead last Tuesday means the Gunners are massive favourites to take their place amongst the continent’s elite whilst condemning the Scots to Europa League action.

Yet whilst the Gunners did perform well in Glasgow it is fair to say they owed their victory to two generous slices of luck.

The first goal by William Gallas cannoned off the back of the defender from a Cesc Fabregas free-kick to wrong-foot Artur Boruc, while the second was an own goal by defender Steven Caldwell, attempting to deal with a dangerous Gael Clichy cross.

Of course the Gunners won’t care how the goals go in, although speaking after the first leg manager Arsene Wenger warned his side against complacency.

With that in mind he is likely to pick a strong starting XI for the return leg, although skipper Cesc Fabregas is unlikely to be risked after picking up a knock at the weekend and with a trip to Manchester United looming.

Whilst the captain will undoubtedly be missed, Arsenal’s midfielders, such as Aaron Ramsey, Denilson and Abou Diaby, have all been in the goals recently, meaning Wenger has plenty of options to pick from.

The Gunners have also hit 12 goals in their opening three games, and while a clean sheet would be enough to progress, an early goal for the home side would all but kill off the Scottish challenge.

Mission Impossible?

Tony Mowbray takes his men to London hoping to repeat what Celtic managed in the last qualifying round - namely, overturning a first leg deficit.

A 1-0 loss to Dinamo Moscow was followed up by a 2-0 win in Russia to send the Hoops into a tie with Arsenal.

Of course beating the Gunners on their own patch will be a much tougher ask and Mowbray has urged his side score early and bring the game to Wenger’s men.

The Celtic boss believes that an early goal could just fray the young Gunners’ nerves and make them edgy, so his team will be looking to attack from the off.

The Hoops warmed up for their trip south with a convincing 5-2 win over St Johnstone on Saturday and the Celtic boss will be hoping they goals continue to flow for his side.


FORM GUIDE
Last Five Results

Arsenal

Aug 22: Arsenal 4-1 Portsmouth
Aug 18: Celtic 0-2 Arsenal
Aug 15: Everton 1-6 Arsenal
Aug 8: Valencia 2-0 Arsenal
Aug 2: Arsenal 3-0 Rangers

Celtic

Aug 22: Celtic 5-2 St Johnstone
Aug 18: Celtic 0-2 Arsenal
Aug 15: Aberdeen 1-3 Celtic
Aug 8: Man City 2-1 Celtic
Aug 5: Dinamo Moscow 0-2 Celtic


TEAM NEWS

Arsenal


Cesc Fabregas is expected to miss out after picking up a knock against Portsmouth.

Possible Starting XI: Almunia, Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy, Song, Diaby, Denilson, Arshavin, Bendtner, Van Persie

Celtic

Stephen McManus and Barry Robson are both back in training but the game comes too soon for both.

Landy N’Guemo is suspended so Scott Brown should come in. Marc Antoine Fortune and Scott McDonald are both expected to start.

Possible Starting XI: Boruc, Hinkel, Caldwell, Loovens, Fox, Brown, Donati, McGeady, McDonald, Fortune, Maloney


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Arsenal


Abou Diaby grabbed a brace at the weekend, and with skipper Fabregas missing he could be the midfield inspiration on Wednesday night.

The young Frenchman’s display at the weekend led manager Arsene Wenger to compare him to former legend Patrick Vieira, high praise indeed.

Celtic

Goals are the order of the day and the Hoops will be hoping that Marc-Antoine Fortune can be the man to find the back of the net.

The striker hit two at the weekend and he will surely be hoping he can repeat that feat on Wednesday and inspire the visitors to an unlikely victory.


PREDICTION

With a healthy lead already established and two precious away goals in the bag it will be a massive shock if Arsenal do not progress.

The Gunners have been in impressive form so far this season and with the goals flowing and the backing of their home fans, another win looks to be on the cards.

Arsenal 2-0 Celtic


Gill Clark, Goal.com