By Declan Taylor
Considering Celtic have won only one European away game in the past six years, it is probably safe to assume that if the Hoops are to qualify for the Champions League proper, they will need a result at Parkhead on Tuesday.
But, having hit Everton for six at Goodison Park on Saturday, Arsenal will surely be confident of recreating their opening-day form north of the border.
The pair have never met in a competitive fixture but, like any 'Battle of Britain' fixture, this clash will carry an edge often absent from Champions League preliminary ties.
Ahead of the first-leg clash, we spoke to Ronnie Cully of the Glasgow Evening Times for the lowdown on Tony Mowbray’s side, all their newest acquisitions and the prospect of shackling the in-form Cesc Fabregas.
THE STORY SO FAR
“Bearing in mind it’s still very, very early in the season Celtic had to be up and running for these Champions League qualifiers before they played any domestic games. They embarked on a very rigorous pre-season schedule which included a trip to Australia and several games nearer home. They managed to score goals in these games and keep clean sheets which pleased Tony Mowbray.
“But when they played Dinamo Moscow in their first competitive game, they were behind after seven minutes. It was only a week between the two games but by the time they got over to Moscow Celtic were a great deal fitter and it showed. They won 2-0 there which got one monkey off their back having not won an away game in Europe for six years. They then went up to Aberdeen in their first League clash, a notoriously difficult place for Celtic, and swept them away with their first-half performance. You begin to think they’re actually hitting their stride at the right time for the Arsenal game.”
THE MAN IN CHARGE
“Tony Mowbray gets a little bit riled when you suggest that he’s an idealist. He believes that his way of trying to win games by scoring goals is basic stuff and you can’t argue with that. He recognises that playing domestically with Celtic will see a lot of teams just try and defend. The best way to approach a game like that is to have as many attacking options as possible. It’s exciting to watch and they are getting goals out of it. But when you come up against a team like Arsenal, it’s a different proposition altogether. He recognises that if you give the ball away you might not see it for about 10 minutes so it is an alien game to what Celtic are used to in the League, that is what has caught them out in Europe. That’s why I’m sure Tony will tweak it a bit because he does have the experience of facing Arsenal with West Brom."
THE ONE TO WATCH
“Marc-Antoine Fortune is taking his time. Tony accepts that strikers are judged by their number of goals but he emphasised on the day he arrived that his job is more than goals. It’s about holding the ball up and bringing the midfielders in to create chances. Tony made the point that West Brom managed to score goals from midfield after Fortune joined them last season. He’s an important part of the team right now but if he can get a few goals himself then he’ll be accepted far more readily by the supporters.
“I think he can be a success as part of the team but I don’t think we’ll see a barrel load of goals. John Hartson once said that a striker at Celtic should get a minimum of 20 or 30 goals a season. Now Fortune is not going to do that, that’s clear from the outset, but his role is something different from your normal striker. And if the midfield can chip in with a few goals then Marc-Antoine Fortune will have done his job.”
“He has brought in Danny Fox at left-back, Celtic have been crying out for a new one for a few years. He has come in and fitted in very well, very quickly. He has a very good left foot and can deliver a good cross but he can also make himself available. Positionally he has a wee bit to find out as he gets used to the game up here and this clash with Arsenal will be a massive test for him because we know what they can do down the wings.
“He has also brought in Landry N’Guemo who is a central midfielder on loan from AS Nancy with an option to buy. His initial performances have been very encouraging. He’s a tenacious little player who has been likened to a few bigger names and we’ll see how he develops as the year goes on. But initially he has looked very good.”
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
"I think it’s to Celtic’s benefit that the first game is at home because I would’ve feared for them going to the Emirates first of all. I think Celtic fans are aware of just how good Arsenal are - they compete in the latter stages of the Champions League year after year while if Celtic emerge from the Group Stage it is a huge achievement. The draw couldn’t have been tougher for Celtic, with Moscow and now Arsenal, but they achieved what many folk didn’t think was possible against Dinamo. They need to come away from the first game with something positive – if they can sneak a win anything can happen at the Emirates."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
“I think there’s confidence that they can score goals but they’re not confident they can keep Arsenal out – that’s the major concern. Defensively they’ve got a few problems and it looks like Glenn Loovens could miss the game, he has been carrying an injury. Gary Caldwell hasn’t had the best of times and was sent off for Scotland last week. It could bring in Darren O’Dea, a fine young player trying to get into the Ireland squad. But it’s a lot of mixing and matching when you want and need a settled back four.”
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
“Everyone looked at the fact they were selling but not buying and wondered if they’d struggle to make the top four. But I think they’ve blown that idea right out of the water with that result at Everton. Celtic’s main hope was that Arsenal may be caught cold at the start of the season but 6-1 at Goodison Park proves they have hit the ground running. There’s no doubt there is quality throughout the side.
“I think the way Cesc Fabregas is playing means you have to watch him. But then if you watch him you may take your eye off someone else like Robin van Persie. And Scotland know from the way he took them apart playing for Holland just how dangerous he is. I think it would be a mistake to focus on any individual players because of their quality all over the pitch.”Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source