Champions League - Barca outclass Arsenal to reach last eight

Tue, 08 Mar 21:47:00 2011

Lionel Messi struck twice as Barcelona usurped 10-man Arsenal 3-1 at the Camp Nou to book their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League with a 4-3 aggregate win.

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Xavi netted the home side's other goal in the second leg of the last 16 tie against an Arsenal side who had Robin van Persie sent off for a second bookable offence on 56 minutes for kicking the ball away.

Arsenal failed to manage a shot on goal on a largely forgettable evening for the Premier League side with Sergio Busquets netting an own goal with a header on 56 minutes before the home side found the net twice more to deservedly seal their progress.

The Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was involved in a furious bust-up with the referee Massimo Busacca of Switzerland at full-time about the decision to red card Van Persie, who claimed he could not hear the whistle as he fired a shot at goal a second after the match official blew for offside.

In the cold light of the day, the statistics of the match tell a truer story.

Barcelona enjoyed 76 per cent of possession in the match compared to 24 per cent from the visitors. They also had 20 shots at goal compared to a visiting side who failed to manage a shot at the home goal.

Arsenal's hopes were raised with Van Persie and captain Cesc Fabregas fit to take their place in the starting line-up, but they were to experience an exacting evening.

Barcelona were quick to pin them back as they sought to retrieve the tie after a 2-1 loss in the first leg at the Emirates Stadium three weeks ago.

The Premier League side lost their keeper Wojciech Szczesny to injury on 16 minutes after he suffered a dislocated finger in saving a shot from Dani Alves.

Manuel Almunia performed superbly a year after he shipped four goals when Arsenal lost 4-1 to the Spanish champions in going down 6-3 on aggregate at the same venue in the last eight of the tournament.

He made several stunning saves, but was powerless to prevent the home side's opening goal as Fabregas needlessly squandered possession just outside of his own box two minutes into five added on in the first period.

Andres Iniesta picked the ball up before clipping a lovely little pass into the area for Messi with several visiting defenders marking empty space.

Messi - who scored all four goals at the Camp Nou against Arsenal a year ago - scooped the ball delightfully over Almunia before hammering the volley into the net for the opening goal.

Arsenal won only their second corner of the match on 53 minutes that led to their equalising goal. It was scarcely believable given Barcelona's ball control.

Samir Nasri threw over the corner that Busquets somehow contrived to nod into his own net.

Almunia took a boot in the face in keeping out an effort from David Villa, but Arsenal suffered more pain when Van Persie was sent off moments later.

With 95,000 fans crammed inside the Camp Nou, Persie protested his innocence in arguing that he could not hear the whistle. He later described the red card as a "total joke".

What was not a joke was the home side's supremacy. Barca continued to swarm all over the 10 men with Almunia making two outstanding saves from Villa in quick succession.

Despite his agility, he was powerless to prevent Barca from levelling the tie 3-3 on aggregate on 67 minutes.

Iniesta fed Villa with a precision pass, who turned to play in Xavi for a wonderful second goal of the night that Almunia and a drooling home support could only admire.

Laurent Koscielny chopped Pedro to the deck on 71 minutes before Messi slipped the ball low to the left of the stranded Almunia to hand Barca a 3-1 lead from the penalty spot. It was Messi's 45th goal of the season.

Almunia was forced to save from Messi and substitute Ibrahim Affellay in the final 15 minutes as Barca threatened to increase their lead.

Astonishingly, Arsenal could have rescued the tie when Javier Mascherano was injured after substitute Nicklas Bendtner's first touch let him down in front of the home goal on 86 minutes.

A relieved Barca keeper Victor Valdes dived on the ball. It remained his only notable action of an evening when his side should have won by a more convincing margin.

Barcelona - Arsenal reaction

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