In Rafa we trust

  • By: Ian Ogg
  • Last Updated: August 26 2014, 21:22 BST

Ian Ogg previews Wednesday's ties in the UEFA Champions League including Arsenal's crucial game with Besiktas.

Rafa Benitez can guide Napoli to the group stages
Rafa Benitez can guide Napoli to the group stages

BRONZE: 2pts Over 2.5 goals in Leverkusen v Copenhagen at 1/2 (General) - this would have collected in nine of Leverkusen's last 11 games and can do so again with Copenhagen set to attack

BRONZE: 1pt Napoli to qualify at 8/5 (888sport, Unibet, betway) - unfortunate to go out in the Group stages last season, the Italians have enough quality to risk at the price with Benitez at the helm

Arsenal face Besiktas in the second leg of their Champions League qualifier on Wednesday night after sharing a goalless draw in Istanbul but the Gunners will be without Olivier Giroud, Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott through injury and Aaron Ramsey through suspension.

Jack Wilshere didn't receive many plaudits for his performance on Saturday, Per Mertesacker looked short of fitness and Alexis Sanchez is still settling in as Arsene Wenger faces (another) critical game with the huge kitty at stake for progressing to the next stage of the competition.

Arsenal had won 12 of their 13 Champions League play-off matches prior to the first leg and should be good enough to make it 13/14 and their odds of 2/5 reflect that - but their squad is being stretched towards its limits and Besiktas gave them plenty to think about in that first encounter.

Slaven Bilic knows English football and Arsenal well (which must be of some assistance) while Demba Ba will be keen to right the perceived wrongs of his spell at Chelsea on this stage and the Highbury faithful may have to endure one or two nervous moments.

The Gunners have never conceded at home against Turkish opposition and it's tempting to back them at odds against to win to nil while the draw/Arsenal half-time/full-time outcome makes some appeal on the presumption that Bilic will try and keep things tight and silence the home crowd.

All in all I think there are better options out there rather than scratching around for an angle at the Emirates.

Stefan Kiessling has hit the ground running for Bayer Leverkusen this season and he should be considered in the goalscoring markets against FC Copenhagen who are managed by former Wolves boss Stale Solbakken.

The Danes are a shade fortunate to still be in this tie and Kiessling has scored in the first leg, against Dortmund in the league as well as netting five in the cup, so Leverkusen could run riot.

There have been over 2.5 goals in nine of the Germans' last 11 games in this competition while they have conceded twice in each of their last three and snapping up the short odds about there being so again looks a wise move with Solbakken promising to set up his team to attack.

Athletic Bilbao against Napoli promises to be an altogether different encounter with the tie evenly poised after the first leg but the Spaniards do have an away goal.

Napoli were left frustrated and disappointed by their failure to win that match but they are fancied to make amends despite Bilbao's terrific record at San Mames.

Bilbao only lost two home games last season - drawing four - but there are few better managers at setting up their teams for the big ties than Rafa Benitez and he has sufficient depth in his squad to see his team progress even though he has yet to oversee an away win in Bilbao.

Gonzalo Higuain scored in the first leg to continue his fine record against Bilbao (he scored eight in 10 for Madrid) and he has plenty of support from the likes of Jose Callejon - who wasted an excellent chance in the first leg - and Dries Mertens while there is Michu as back-up.

The onus is on Napoli to go forwards but Bilbao will not want to invite pressure by sitting back and there are sure to be some nerves in Spain as they look to reach the group stages for just the second time in their history having done so previously in 1998/99.

Napoli's greater experience could give them an edge and they will be desperate to reach the group stages and atone for last year's unfortunate exit in a group consisting of Dortmund, Marseille and Arsenal despite winning four of their six games.

They have the quality to get the result they need and are too big a price to ignore.

Posted at 2120 BST on 26/08/2014