Arsenal and Chelsea must finish job Champions League job
Matchday six in the Champions League group stage and both Arsenal and Chelsea still have unfinished business.
Neither London club can afford a bad night. Arsenal (2/1 with Coral) will qualify for the knock-out stages for the 11th time in a row if they avoid a defeat of three goals or more in Napoli, but it is vital that they come back with at least a draw from Italy to ensure the all-important top place in Group F.
Chelsea (2/9) are already through, but need at least a draw at home against Steaua Bucharest to secure top spot.
With Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, PSG and champions Bayern Munich all lying in wait for Group runners-up in the Round of 16, the importance of qualifying as Group winners cannot be overstated.
Arsenal have the experience to cope with the intimidation of a night in Naples, but with Rafa Benitez’s side needing a victory to stand a realistic chance of getting through (they need to better Borussia Dortmund’s result at Marseille if they can’t beat Arsenal by at least three goals – it’s all quite complicated), it’s sure to be a tight, tense affair in the Stadio San Paolo.
Gunners centre backs Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have been rock solid in recent weeks and they will need to be on their guard again against world class striker Gonzalo Higuain (11/2 to score first or last, 6/4 at any time).
Up front, Arsenal will need to take their chances when they are presented and in this regard, Arsene Wenger will be confident that if usual scorers Olivier Giroud (15/8 to score during the 90 minutes) and Aaron Ramsey (2/1) don’t convert, one of a host of other attacking threats – now including Theo Walcott again – will do the job.
This has the look of a draw (23/10) about it, maybe 1-1 (11/2).
Chelsea shouldn’t be troubled by Steaua Bucharest after hammering them 4-0 on their own patch earlier in the competition and Blues fans will be expecting another easy victory over the Romanians.
But all is not well at Stamford Bridge. They were beaten twice by Basel in earlier Group E encounters and have already lost three times in the Premier League, most recently 3-2 at Stoke last Saturday.
Jose Mourinho is concerned about the goal contribution from his strikers and now also has defensive problems to sort out. Chelsea have let in six goals in their last two games and 17 in all this campaign, more than in the entire season when the Portuguese led them to the Premiership title in 2005.
Fortunately, they are now facing a side which has managed only two goals in their five group games and this should be quite a comfortable night at Stamford Bridge, perhaps a 3-0 stroll (13/2).