A Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League again with a dramatic 3-1 victory at the Camp Now.
It was an Arsenal performance that asked a lot of questions. Arsenal looked set to head into half-time at 0-0, despite losing their goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny early in the match to a hand injury, but then Cesc Fabrgas inexplicably tried a back-heel 20 yards from his own goal with 90 seconds left in the half. Iniesta pounced on the ball and released Messi with a terrific pass. The Argentina forward somehow managed to flip the ball over Almunia, swivelling and volleying it into the back of the net. A breathtaking goal.
Arsenal had been completely outplayed in the first half, but they were back on level terms minutes into the second half when Barca’s stand-in central defender Busquets somehow managed to head Samir Nasri’s corner into his own net. Suddenly Arsenal were nominally in command as Barca needed two goals to progress.
Almunia was brilliant, making save after save, but the game turned when Van Persie was giving his second yellow card for kickingf the ball away after an offside decision. It was a terrible decision, and might have cost Arsenal the game.
Inexplicably Wenger did not make a substitution for the next 20 mins as Barcelona scored two goals to end the tie. Without van Persie, Arsenal had no center-forward who could receive the ball and relieve some of the pressure on the Gunners defence. It was a costly mistake by the Arsenal manager as Arsenal launched wave after wave of attack, and the Arsenal’s defenders had no outlet to relieve the pressure.
It took ten more minutes but when Villa’s deft pass glanced into Xavi’s path the midfielder clipped effort finally got past Almunia. Five minutes later Barca got their third and final goal when Koscielny mis-timed his tackle on Pedro, the winger tumbled and referee Massimo Busacca pointed to the spot.
Messi stepped up and cool as you can be, gently slid the ball to Almunia’s left for the killer goal.
But even after being outplayed for the whole match, Arsenal had a great chance to snatch it at the end when Wilshere played in substitute Nicklas Bendtner, but Bendtner showed why he is not a top class striker as he allowed Javier Mascherano to recover and make a great tackle to stop him from getting a shot on goal.