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Rupert Wyman 8th Mar 2010 - 14:53

Cesc or no Cesc, Arsenal are still attractive

Cesc Fabregas has been ruled out of Arsenal's Champions League tie against Porto on Tuesday night. The Spaniard is the undoubted star in the Arsenal line-up and while he will me a huge miss for the Gunners they should still have enough about them to overturn the 2-1 first-leg deficit.

It is 8/13 that it is Arsenal that line-up in the quarter-finals and this is the bet for me rather than the 6/5 about Porto reaching the last eight.

Any time the Gunners are without their captain they are not as fluent in attack but which side would be? When you consider that he has scored 14 times this season and created another 15.

Fabregas hobbled off in the first half against Burnley on Saturday with a recurrence of his hamstring injury from earlier in the campaign. In his absence the Gunners laboured to a win over the struggling Clarets.

The player who I think will be all-important to Arsenal is Theo Walcott. The England man is still fighting his way back to form and match fitness and will be keen to show Fabio Capello what he is all about on club football's biggest stage.

Walcott disappointed when Capello handed him a starting berth against Egypt last week, but then against Burnley he delivered a man-of-the-match performance which included scoring the second for the Gunners.

A lot will rest on Walcott's shoulders on Tuesday because there is a lack of attacking talent within the Arsenal side at the moment therefore Arsene Wenger will need him to be at his electric best to cause problems for Porto's defence.

Walcott is priced at 15/2 to score first or 9/4 to at anytime. Both look good bets to me. Walcott should line up on the right of a three-pronged attack with Nicklas Bendtner as the focal point and the returning Andrei Arshavin is likely to line up on the left after his half-hour goal-scoring cameo appearance against Burnley.

Arsenal will be hoping for an early goal as they seek to turn around the tie following the 2-1 loss in Porto two weeks ago after Lukas Fabianski's two howlers. In Portugal the Pole's own goal came after just 11 minutes and I expect another early goal at the Emirates, 2/1 is the price for there to be one inside the first 15 minutes. Luckily for Wenger, Manuel Almunia is available for the second leg.

I fully expect the early goal to go Arsenal's way and it is 16/5 for them to score within the first quarter of an hour.

The game shouldn't be plain sailing for Wenger's side but I expect them to emerge victorious (1/2) as Porto have a dreadful record when they have travelled to England in European competitions. In 14 visits, they have lost 12 times and drawn twice.

In addition Arsenal have a fantastic record at the Emirates in Europe against teams from the continent, having not lost at home since 2003.

It is hard to see how a Porto side that struggled to a 2-2 draw at home to Olhanense in the Portuguese Liga on Saturday can upset the odds in North London.

The Dragons will be boosted though by the return of Hulk, who is suspended from domestic competitions after hitting a steward in December. The eccentric striker is 10/3 to score at the Emirates. His strike-partner Falcao is available at the same price and as I expect both teams to score (4/5) either could be worth a bet.

However, it shouldn't be either of the Porto strikers celebrating come the final whistle as I fully expect Arsenal to be in the Champions League quarter-finals once again.



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