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Aug 18, 2014

Betting Blog: Champions League

Alexis Sanchez will get his first taste of Champions League football with Arsenal this week as Arsene Wenger's men face Besiktas in the play-offs.

It's one of the outstanding statistics in European football -- Arsenal stand on the brink of Champions League football for the 17th time in a row. To do that, they must get past a tricky looking tie against Besiktas, starting with the away leg in Turkey on Tuesday night.

Besiktas beat Feyenoord in the previous round helped by three goals for former Chelsea striker Demba Ba and Arsenal will be wary of his strength and goal threat. Per Mertesacker, a World Cup winner with Germany, is with the squad a week earlier than planned, with Arsene Wenger facing plenty of questions in defence.

Playing in Turkey is a tough experience for many teams but Arsenal won at Fenerbahce at this stage last year and they will also benefit by the fact that the match is being played in the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, while work on Besiktas' own stadium is completed.

All this plays in Arsenal's favour and though they don't have to get the job completely done in the first leg, the away goals rule mean they will be extra-keen to at least score. That should lead Wenger to play an attacking system and he will hope Alexis Sanchez can make his mark in his first Champions League outing for his new club.

But I would not be surprised if this is a tight affair won by the odd goal. Arsenal were not at their best in beating Crystal Palace at the weekend in their Premier League opener but got the job done thanks to Aaron Ramsey's late winner. The Welshman is a midfielder who tends to get on a roll when it comes to scoring, as we saw last season, and with Arsenal still lacking a 20-25 goals a season man, he could net again.

If you can get anything around 7/1 with Bet365 that Ramsey scores first, that could be worth taking, while the 5/2 that he scores at any time also looks decent.

Making the most of being at home in Europe is so key and there are few more intimidating places to go for a visiting team than Naples, where Napoli take on Athletic Bilbao. The Italians lost just twice at home last season -- and in the Champions League won all three at home against Dortmund, Marseille and Arsenal -- while Bilbao were fourth in Spain, a distance behind the top three.

Rafa Benitez may be among those who knows a 0-0 at home is not a bad score in Europe, but expect his side to win on the night anyway, with Bet365's 5/6 looking generous, all things considered.

Celtic are in this round thanks to a massive stroke of luck after Legia Warsaw were thrown out for fielding an ineligible player and they can expect a tough match in Slovenia against MK Maribor.

The home side have begun their season with three home wins and one away defeat and if Celtic don't lift their level considerably, they should win again. At 19/10, they look over-priced to take an advantage into the second leg.

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