Lionel Messi effectively condemned Arsenal
to a sixth successive exit at the last-16
stage of the Champions League with two
decisive goals at Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal battled gallantly to give themselves a
chance going into the second leg at the Nou
Camp in three weeks’ time – but suffered at the
hands of Barcelona’s superstar trio Messi,
Neymar and Luis Suarez.
After Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier
Giroud had come close to giving Arsenal the
lead, Messi scored his first goal against keeper
Petr Cech at the seventh attempt when he
crowned a blistering a counter-attack involving
Suarez and Neymar to sweep home a finish
after 71 minutes.
And further damage was inflicted seven
minutes from time when Arsenal substitute
Mathieu Flamini floored Messi with a mistimed
challenge and he got up to send Cech the
wrong way from the spot. It was his eighth
goal against Arsenal in the Champions League.
Suarez hit the post and Cech saved from
Neymar as Barcelona took control – but this tie
already looks well out of Arsenal’s reach.
All over for Arsenal
Arsenal went out to Barcelona in 2010 and
2011 and that was after a draw and a win at
Emirates Stadium – so their chances can be all
but written off after this defeat.
The Gunners had their chances but they came
to nothing, with Oxlade-Chamberlain a culprit
when he allowed Barcelona keeper Marc-Andre
ter Stegen to save from a huge opportunity
before Giroud saw a second-half header well
Such is the ruthlessness of this Barcelona side
that even half-chances (or less) have to be
accepted and, if they are not, there is almost
an inevitability about the outcome.
Wenger can make the usual optimistic noises
about the second leg in the Nou Camp but it
would be the greatest result of his reign if he
managed to inspire a turnaround from this
It is, perhaps, on nights like these that those
calls for Wenger to sign a world-class striker
carry greater resonance because even the
smallest opportunities have to count and
Arsenal were unable to do so.
The big fear before the game was that Arsenal
would be unable to keep Barca’s big three
quiet for 90 minutes no matter how hard they
tried – and so it proved.
Strange as it may seem, this was not Messi,
Neymar and Suarez at their very best but they
still cast a huge shadow over Arsenal and
Suarez had two missed opportunities at the
end of the first half, Cech made two
magnificent saves from Neymar and Messi
contributed to the two decisive goals. This on
a night when even the three themselves will
admit they have played much better.
All three carry a touch of genius while offering
contrasting qualities. Neymar’s change of pace
was startling, Suarez is like a shark as he
makes his way around defences spreading
chaos while Messi remains peerless.
Any team hoping to take the Champions League
crown from Barcelona will have to work out
how to stop the great Barcelona trinity – easier
said than done.
Arsenal deserve credit
Arsenal and manager Wenger will be desolate
after this result effectively consigns them to
yet another last 16 exit – but they deserve a
measure of credit for their display.
In the first half they were hugely disciplined to
keep Barcelona at bay, indeed in the first 30
minutes the holders only had two touches in
Arsenal’s penalty area compared to 11 from
Goalkeeper Cech was immense while Nacho
Monreal and Aaron Ramsey were also excellent.
Ultimately, however, Arsenal were not good
enough – no shame in that – but all that is left
is for Barcelona to complete the formalities in
Catalonia in three weeks.
Man of the match: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on BT
Sport: “Barcelona are a great team. We put a
lot of energy in the game and technically we
were very average.
“The regret I had was once we looked like we
dominated the game, we give the goal away.
Similar to Monaco last season, naive, and that
is frustrating. When we looked like we could
win the game, we just gave it away.
“Realistically it is very, very difficult, if not
impossible. We have to go there and fight. We
had the chances, we didn’t score.”
Barcelona boss Luis Enrique: “I am happy
with everything. There was nothing that I didn’t
“The result is really good, but the tie is not
over. We will have to go out to win.”
‘Arsenal lacked quality in final third’
Former England midfielder Jermaine Jenas
on BBC Radio 5 live: “I felt the Arsenal
players gave a good account of themselves in
parts of the game but this Barcelona side have
got too much class.
“Arsenal will be thinking what could have been.
They didn’t capitalise on the opportunities they
had. They didn’t seem to have enough when
Barcelona ramped it up.
“I was really happy with Arsenal’s tactics for
once but I don’t think they had the quality in
the final third.”
The stats you need to know
Lionel Messi ended a run of 10 hours and
11 minutes without a goal against Petr Cech
(seventh game against him).
Messi now has eight Champions League
goals versus Arsenal – only against and AC
Milan (eight) has he scored as often.
There were just 47 seconds between
Mathieu Flamini coming on to the pitch and
him giving away a penalty.
Barcelona are unbeaten in 33 competitive
games – their best ever run in all
competitions. The record for a Spanish team
is for Real Madrid with 34 games in a row
without defeat back in 1987-88.
Arsenal failed to score for the first time in
14 Champions League matches.