Barcelona star strikes brace as Arsenal suffer Champions League defeat
- Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images
Arsenal 0 Barcelona 2
Lionel Messi’s second-half double left Arsenal’s Champions League hopes in tatters as they went down to holders Barcelona in Tuesday’s last-16 first leg.
Messi broke the deadlock in the 71st minute, latching onto Neymar’s pass to fire home, and added a second from the penalty spot after he had been fouled by substitute Mathieu Flamini.
It means the Gunners will need at least a two-goal victory when they travel to the Nou Camp next month if they are to avoid exiting the competition at this stage for the sixth year in a row.
The visitors retained possession almost seamlessly without creating many clear chances in the first half, although Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta both had hopeful punts from distance.
Neymar set up Luis Suarez on the counter-attack, but the danger was cleared by Nacho Monreal, and it was Arsenal who actually made greater inroads in their opponents’ penalty area.
Aaron Ramsey scuffed a shot straight at Javier Mascherano, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should have done better after Hector Bellerin’s effort rebounded to him within range.
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Oxlade-Chamberlain limped off early in the second period – the after-effects of a clumsy challenge on Iniesta – and Barcelona began to pick up the pace, with Petr Cech called into action to foil Neymar.
At the other end, Marc-Andre ter Stegen had to dive to his right to scramble away Olivier Giroud’s header – but that was a rare moment in the spotlight for the Gunners forward, who was largely anonymous.
Barcelona looked the more likely to score and Messi’s drive was charged down by Per Mertesacker before Suarez drilled the ball across goal with only Cech to beat.
But the Arsenal goalkeeper was helpless when the visitors sliced his defence open on the counter-attack and Neymar picked out Messi, who took a touch to evade Cech before tucking his finish into the net.
Suarez should have doubled his side’s lead six minutes later, firing against the post after Messi set him up – but the killer second goal was not long in coming.
Mertesacker failed to clear a cross and Messi made to pounce on the loose ball, only to be felled by Flamini – and the Argentina star got up to drill the spot-kick past Cech.
The damage could have been even worse had Cech not turned Neymar’s header over late on – but the general feeling was that it may prove academic when the Gunners head to Barcelona for the second leg on March 16.
Arsenal: Cech; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin (Flamini (82), Ramsey; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Walcott 50), Ozil, Sanchez; Giroud (Welbeck 73).