In Review

Valiant Arsenal no match for Messi and brilliant Barcelona

Two late goals from the Argentine genius kill off the Gunners after 70 minutes of stout resistance

Arsenal 0 Barcelona 2

Two goals from Lionel Messi all but ended Arsenal's hopes of reaching the quarter-final of the Champions League on a night when Barcelona's brilliance was underlined.

This was a good performance from Arsenal, one that was full of energy and intent and against most clubs in Europe, it would have been rewarded with a win. But not against Barcelona. Bidding to become the first club since AC Milan in 1990 to retain the Champions League, the Spanish giants absorbed Arsenal's pressure before scoring twice in the final quarter.

The first, on 71 minutes, was a goal of swift, clinical magnificence. An Arsenal attack broke down in the visitors' penalty box and Barcelona counter-attacked down the left flank. Neymar fed Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan then playing the ball back to the Brazilian, who surged into the Arsenal area and unselfishly picked out Lionel Messi. The Argentine, who had never scored in his six previous encounters against Petr Cech, chose his spot and fired past the Arsenal keeper.

Twelve minutes later, Messi scored his second, picking himself up after being felled by substitute Mathieu Flamini to blast the ball from the penalty spot. Flamini had only been on the field for a minute before his ill-timed tackle but in truth, the Frenchman had no choice but to make the desperate lunge after Per Mertesacker's clumsy touch delivered the ball into the path of the Argentine.

It was a tough scoreline on Arsenal, who from the start had taken the game to Barcelona. Manager Arsene Wenger had sent out a team to press their hosts high up and prevent them moving the ball unchallenged out of defence.

It worked and the deadly attacking trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar rarely threatened in the first half. Indeed, the best chance fell to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the England winger scuffed his connection from the edge of the six-yard box and it was comfortably saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Olivier Giroud came closest to scoring for Arsenal in the second half with a clever header that required Ter Stegen to make a brilliant one-hand save low to his right.

Two chances, but neither taken, and Arsenal weren't to have a third as Barcelona killed off their hopes in cruel fashion, leaving Wenger to reflect on what might have been.

"When your players put in the energy that they have put in tonight, it's very difficult to take because you want the players to be rewarded," he said. "We had an unbelievable chance in the first half. The way we finished our chances today is a problem because I felt that we missed something in the final third."

It wasn't just the lack of precision up front that troubled the Frenchman, there was also the fragility at the back. "The regret I had was once we looked like we dominate 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," he said.

The victory extends Barcelona's unbeaten run in all competitions to 33 matches, one fewer than Real Madrid's Spanish record of 34 games without defeat. Even Wenger admitted the chances of Arsenal reaching the last eight are slim. "Barcelona are through 95 per cent but we want to go there and play," he said, when asked about next month's return leg in the Camp Nou. "We are Arsenal Football Club and we will not go there to just have no chance."

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