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28/03/2008 No.15
rendspotting Football/Rugby
Dan Roebuck
Friday March 28, 2008
  Back Arsenal to march on Moscow and leave Reds' season in tatters

With all four Premier League clubs through to the Champions League quarter-finals, interest has been escalating since the draw was announced. With every bookmaking firm looking at large liabilities on one or other of the English teams lifting the trophy, there could be a sting in the tail depending on how the ties shape up on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"The prospect of an all-Premier League semi-final is intriguing and we suspect that it would be excellent for our turnover on the tournament," said the William Hill spokesman, Graham Sharpe. "However, we could do with Arsenal falling by the wayside, as they are far and away the worst possible result for us, currently representing a potential six-figure loss." Those sentiments are echoed across the industry, with every bookmaker hoping that at least one of the English teams is not successful in Moscow in May.

The odds of a Premier League side winning the Champions League have obviously shrunk dramatically since this column tipped such an outcome, at 11-8, in early November. Now, the best available is 2-5 (Betfred and Boylesports). English teams represent four of the top five in the outright betting, with Manchester United 10-3 (general), Chelsea 7-2 (general), Arsenal 6-1 (general) and Liverpool 15-2 (Betfred). Only Barcelona, at 7-2 (Ladbrokes), muscle in on the Premier League's domination of the market, with the rest of the field headed by Roma at 14-1 (Coral and Paddy Power). Schalke are 50-1 (general) and Fenerbahce 66-1 (Coral).

With the draw also made in advance for the semi-finals, bookmakers have priced up a "name the finalists" market. A Barcelona-Chelsea final is favourite at 5-1 (Boylesports) with a United-Chelsea pairing 6-1 (Bet365). A repeat of the 2006 final between Arsenal and Barcelona is also 6-1 (Blue Square and Boylesports), and Hill's offers 6-4 about any two English teams contesting the final.

With a round of league fixtures to come across Europe tomorrow and Sunday, there are few match prices available on next week's Champions League quarter-finals, although the layers have all issued "to qualify" odds. The stand-out price is the 5-6 Ladbrokes and VC Bet will lay bettors that Arsenal make it through to the last four at Liverpool's expense. Most bookmakers make the Gunners clear favourites to progress, some as short as 8-11, with Liverpool as big as 11-10 (general).

If the league results between the two clubs represented home and away legs in a European competition, Arsenal would have knocked Liverpool out in five of the past six seasons, whereas Rafael Benítez has bettered Arsène Wenger just once in their last six meetings in all competitions. That success was earned as last season was drawing to a close and neither had much to play for as Champions League qualification looked secure. In this season's 1-1 draw at Anfield many observers felt Arsenal gave the better performance.

Despite both suffering significant league defeats last weekend, it is worth remembering there is an eight-point gap between the pair in the league, something that is not reflected in the prices on offer. The value, therefore, is to back Arsenal.

Those readers who took our advice to back Chelsea at 10-1 to win the Champions League back in September should, according to the bookmakers, have little to fear when Avram Grant takes his side to play Fenerbahce in Istanbul. The layers make the Blues 1-4 (general) to reach the semi-finals. However, Zico's team have scored in all their Champions League home matches this season and could hold Chelsea, who have drawn four of eight in Europe this term, in the first leg. Have a speculative interest the match ends as a scoring draw at 4-1 (Bet365).

Britain's sole representative in the quarter-finals of the Uefa Cup, Rangers, could find life tough against Sporting Lisbon. The Portuguese side, finalists in 2005, are attractively priced at 5-6 (general) to knock out the Scottish Premier League leaders, who only made it through to the last eight of the competition thanks to two errors by Werder Bremen's goalkeeper Tim Wiese at Ibrox in the previous round. Bayern Munich are the favourites for the competition at 9-5 (Totesport) with Fiorentina next best at 11-2 (Bet365 and Paddy Power).

Arsenal to qualify for the semi-finals of the Champions League at 5-6 (Ladbrokes and VC)
Sporting Lisbon to qualify for the semi-finals of the Uefa Cup at 5-6 (general)
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