Messi dashes Arsenal’s Champions League hopes with away brace
Lee Gormley | February 23, 2016
Arsenal 0-2 Barcelona
- Lionel Messi strikes after 70 minutes to open scoring
- The Argentine netted again from penalty spot late on
- Barcelona earn 2-0 away win at the Emirates
Messi double sees Barca earn away win
Lionel Messi struck twice at the Emirates to leave Arsenal’s Champions League campaign hanging in the balance, with the Argentine magician earning Barcelona a hard-fought 2-0 away victory in London.
Barca forward Messi now has eight goals in five meetings against Arsene Wenger’s Gunners following his last 16 first leg brace, with his first coming after a great surging run from Neymar and his second a well-placed penalty.
Arsenal had defended gallantly to go into half-time at 0-0, but the Barcelona dominance eventually paid off in the second period, with Luis Enrique’s men now set up perfectly for the return leg in a fortnight.
Arsenal come close in opening stages
Barca started off as swift as usual in the centre, with their quick movement in midfield seeing Nacho Monreal pick up an early booking for a mistimed challenge on Ivan Rakitic, as Arsenal were pegged back in the opening stages.
Both Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano were seeing plenty of the ball in the first quarter of an hour, as the centre backs were granted time in possession with the hosts happy to sit off and lie deep.
Visiting skipper Andres Iniesta went in search of a decisive opening wth 16 minutes gone, but was eventually crowded out by the home defence, while Suarez and Neymar were beginning to find pockets of space during Barcelona’s dominance on the ball.
It was evident from the early exchanges that Wenger’s Gunners were happy to soak up the pressure put on them, then hit back on the counter attack with their pace, and it almost paid off.
After 22 minutes played, Mesut Ozil found himself through on the right and cleverly teed-up a surging Hector Bellerin, but the rapid full back’s shot was denied a crowd of Barca bodies, while Marc-Andre ter Stegen eventually swallowed up another attempt by Olivier Giroud.
Hosts hold out until half-time
Messi had so far been quiet, but he found himself on the Emirates turf after a crunching tackle from Arsenal anchorman Francis Coquelin, though Enrique’s men were unable to capitalise on the subsequent free-kick.
The Argentine attacker was once again on the receiving end of some harsh treatment, this time Laurent Koscielny was the offender, though his following close-range set-piece was easily cleared by a towering defensive wall.
With 10 minutes to go until the break, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain rapidly charged down the left flank, but saw his promising come to an abrupt halt after Mascherano came flying in with a crunching slide tackle, temporarily injuring both players in the process.
For all of Barcelona’s superior possession, the reigning European champions were so far struggling to craft a genuinely threatening chance, until Suarez popped up before the break.
The Uruguayan sent his header sailing wide of Petr Cech’s right post, following a first-time cross from Dani Alves, as Arsenal managed to hold out the first 45 minutes unscathed, which would have greatly pleased their boss.
Cech denies Neymar early after break
Within only three minutes of the restart, Neymar was presented with a glorious chance to open proceedings, though the Brazilian couldn’t elevate his attempted chip high enough to beat Cech, as Arsenal survived an early second-half scare.
The Samba star was soon involved again, linking up impressively with Neymar to wriggle free in the Arsenal penalty area, but a great sliding block from Bellerin was able to thwart any danger, relieving pressure on Per Mertesacker and Koscielny.
Giroud thought he had given his side the lead on the hour mark, as the Frenchman jumped highest to connect with a lofted delivery from the left, but Ter Stegen somehow managed to get down quick enough to keep proceedings scoreless.
Five minutes later, Suarez found space inside the Gunners danger zone again and the South American marksman fired a low-driven effort across Cech’s goal, but his teammates were all flat-footed as the chance went begging.
Messi breaks deadlock
The north Londoners had so far held strong and withstood the immense pressure placed upon them but, with 70 minutes played, Messi dispatched his seventh goal in five outings against the hosts to finally send Barca ahead.
Messi had surged forward in acres of space and slotted home a pinpoint cross from Neymar, following a swift counter move kicked off from a deep defensive clearance, with the Argentine’s strike being his first ever against Cech, ending a run of over 10 hours of action.
Only moments later Messi and Neymar were causing havoc again, with their brilliant build-up play leading to an opportunity for Suarez to get in on the act, but the latter forward’s shot smashed off the post to reprieve Arsenal momentarily.
With less than 10 minutes to go at the Emirates, substitute Mathieu Flamini made a huge error in judgement in the penalty area, mistiming his tackle and bringing Messi down to concede a penalty.
The first goal scorer then obliged and dispatched the spot-kick himself to add a second away goal and extend Arsenal’s misery, as Barca ran out 2-0 winners to take a huge step towards the quarter-finals once again and are 2/1 with Coral to retain their crown.