Battling Arsenal beaten by Messi double, as familiar failings once again prove Gunners undoing
Arsenal were beaten 2-0 by holders Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie, at the Emirates Stadium tonight.
Lionel Messi’s double leaves the Gunners on the brink of elimination from the competition for the sixth successive year at the last 16 stage.
It is the fourth successive year that Arsenal have lost the first leg at home at this stage of the competition.
Arsenal produced a battling performance but were unable to convert the chances that came their way, and were eventually caught on the break with Messi putting Barcelona ahead in the 71st minute.
It means once again the Gunners will need at least a two-goal victory in the return leg to progress to the last eight of the competition when they travel to the Nou Camp next month.
A highly unlikely outcome given Barcelona’s formidable home form.
Barcelona enjoyed most of the early possession but created little as Arsenal kept their defensive shape and discipline.
Nacho Monreal picked up an early booking, as the Turkish referee infuriated the crowd with a succession of decisions in favour of Barcelona.
Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta both had efforts from distance that didn’t trouble Petr Cech in the Arsenal goal.
Neymar then set up Luis Suarez on the counter-attack, but the danger was cleared by Nacho Monreal.
Arsenal with a more limited share of the possession created the better goal scoring opportunities.
But as we witnessed in his competition before you are punished if you don’t take your chances.
Aaron Ramsey mishit a shot straight at Javier Mascherano, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should have done better after Hector Bellerin’s effort rebounded to him within range.
But he shot straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen from close range. The sort of gilt-edged chance that has to be taken at this level.
Oxlade-Chamberlain limped off early in the second period – the after-effects of a challenge on Iniesta after he allowed the ball to run away from him on a promising counter-attack.
Barcelona began to dominate possession and push Arsenal into defending ever deeper, with Petr Cech saving an effort from Neymar.
At the other end, ter Stegen was at full stretch to palm away Olivier Giroud’s goal bound header.
It was an isolated threatening moment for the Gunners.
Messi’s drive was charged down by Per Mertesacker, whilst Suarez fired the ball narrowly wide of the post with Cech beaten.
The decisive moment came when Arsenal lost the ball deep in Barclona’s half and with men committed forward, were left short-handed at the back by a lightening counter-attack.
Neymar picked out Messi, who took a touch to evade Cech before tucking his finish into the net. It was his first goal past Cech in the competition. He didn’t have to wait long to claim his second.
Suarez should have doubled his side’s lead six minutes later, firing against the post after Messi set him up
The second goal arrived when Mertesacker failed to clear a cross and Messi reacted first in getting to the loose ball,
Mathieu Flamini on the pitch for 47 seconds got there a faction later and fouled Messi.
The Argentina sent Cech the wrong way to double Barcelona’s lead.
Cech turned Neymar’s header over late on to save the Gunners from conceding again.
The only bright spot for Arsenal late on was a lively cameo appearance from substitute Danny Welbeck.
So the Gunners head to Barcelona for the second leg on March 16 needing a miracle. A familiar position for Arsenal to be in as they head for another last 16 exit.
Arsenal: Cech 7; Bellerin 7, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 7, Monreal 6; Coquelin 7 (Flamini (82), Ramsey 6; Oxlade-Chamberlain 6 (Walcott 50), Ozil 6, Sanchez 6; Giroud 6 (Welbeck 73).