A second half brace from Lionel Messi settled this highly anticipated last sixteen match at the Emirates on a night which cemented Barcelona’s quality and presence as the best of the best in European football.
Arsenal 0-2 Barcelona
The result means that not only do the reigning champions take a two goal lead to the Nou Camp, but they have vital away goals should the Gunners attempt a comeback in a couple of weeks time.
They eradicated all low expectations of them with an explosive start that suffocated Barcelona’s defence for the best part of half an hour. Arguably the Gunners’ best chance of the night, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain fluffed his lines with a mis-hit shot from 10 yards out that rolled towards Ter Stegen. Moments later, Chamberlain raced away from the congested Arsenal half to launch a fierce counter attack upon Barcelona, before a crunching challenge from Javier Mascherano halted the Englishman’s progress and left both men in a heap on the floor.
Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey provided plenty of energy and intensity as Wenger’s men pushed for an opener, the duo carving out threatening passes to no avail.
As the first period wore on, Barcelona eventually got a sizeable foothold of the contest, Messi, Suarez and Neymar displaying trademark interplay as they weaved through the Arsenal defence. Suarez should have scored with the final action of the first half with a glancing header that agonisingly evaded the far post after Dani Alves’ delicious flick into the six yard box.
|Image: Getty Images|
Barcelona continued to be patient when in possession, though there was always that threat of Arsenal countering with pace, now that Theo Walcott had been thrown on for Chamberlain, still suffering from the earlier collision with Mascherano. Again the attacking magnificence of Barcelona was on full display, as Neymar awkwardly missed Luis Suarez’s grounded cross to the far post after the Uruguayan had sold Nacho Monreal with an exquisite dummy.
A pulsating last 30 minutes featured little from a toothless Arsenal on the night, as MSN finally got it right with a breakneck counter that concluded with Neymar setting up Messi to smash past an exposed Cech, his first ever goal against the Czech. It was a goal that silenced a supportive home crowd, one that had grown in hope as the night wore on.
With seven minutes remaining on the clock, Messi was the quickest to react to a poor touch from Mertesacker in the box and was brought down by substitute Mathieu Flamini, his first act after coming on for Coquelin. There were no mind games or silly penalty tactics from Barca this time, as the Argentine sent Cech the wrong way and swept home clinically to send the Spanish side home with a comfortable lead.
There remains little hope for Arsenal that they can mount a serious comeback in two weeks’ time, though they will be glad to hear that Gerard Pique will be out for the second leg after picking up a booking in this game. In terms of the man of the match, Javier Mascherano is the only Argentine worthy of receiving the accolade despite Messi’s pivotal double, the man was simply an immovable object at the back and was key to helping Barca weather the early storm.
More: Juventus 2-2 Bayern Munich
This article was produced in association with and also features on DerSuarezBite - a cutting-edge football blog bringing you the best views of the game.