Lionel Messi struck a brace as Barcelona’s late show saw them secure a 2-0 victory at Arsenal and take a commanding grip of this Champions League last-16 tie.
The visitors rolled into town boasting the much-heralded MSN in attack but they were largely nullified in the first half as Arsene Wenger’s game-plan to restrict and counter-attack appeared to be working.
The hosts were resolute and organised in defence and it showed as the Catalans failed to muster an effort on target in the first half of a Champions League match for the first time since November 2013. Arsenal could have capped their positive display with a goal but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain fluffed an early opening.
It proved to be costly as Barcelona grew as the game wore on and typically it was the combination of Barca’s triumvirate that broke the home side’s hearts with 19 minutes to go. It took just 16 seconds for Neymar, Luis Suarez and Messi to ruthlessly break on the hosts, with the Argentine providing a composed finish to net his first ever goal against Petr Cech.
Arsenal’s hopes were all-but completely dashed seven minutes from the end when substitute Mathieu Flamini’s first act was to bring down Messi, giving the Argentine the chance to fire a cool spot kick into the left-hand corner.
The result leaves the Gunners on the verge of an exit after losing a last-16 home match by a two-goal margin for the fourth time in a row. Realistically Arsenal needed to take an advantage to the Nou Camp for the second leg on March 16 and will now surely just go through the motions as the holders look to put the seal on their march into the last eight.