Champions League: Lionel Messi works magic, Barcelona blanks Arsenal
Forward strikes twice to seal 1st-leg match
Barcelona's strike force proved too hot for Arsenal to handle as Lionel Messi scored both goals for the titleholders in a convincing 2-0 victory in the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday.
Messi provided a clinical finish to a breakaway move that featured strike partners Luis Suarez and Neymar in the 71st minute, and then scored an 83rd minute penalty to seal a tense first-leg match at Emirates Stadium.
The five-time world player of the year decided a game that Barcelona had dominated, even without taking all the chances that came the way of its prolific forward line.
Arsenal created opportunities in both halves, but was mainly engaged in a damage limitation exercise against a side that the club's own manager Arsene Wenger described before the game as "super favourites."
It's a tag that Barcelona certainly has now.
With two away goals and home advantage to come, Barcelona will be confident of reaching the quarterfinals for the ninth consecutive season after the second leg on March 16 at the Nou Camp.
"I liked everything about Barcelona today, everything from the very beginning," the Catalan club's coach Luis Enrique said.
"My players individually performed perfectly and I think we are deserved winners of this game. The score is very good, but nothing is decided yet. We will have to play really well in front of our crowd in order to be in the next round."
Barcelona had beaten Arsenal in both their previous meetings in the knockout stages, in 2010 and 2011, along with the 2006 final in Paris. Its second-half performance on Tuesday, which combined possession with dangerous counterattacks, was a potent reminder of that track record - and another source of frustration for Wenger.
"They are better than us, and I believe everybody knows that. But I think we could have won the game tonight if we had kept the discipline until the end," said the Frenchman. "Barcelona masters all aspects of the game, and as soon as you're in a bad position with one or two players you can get punished."
Wenger accepted that his side's chance of advancing hung by a thread, but he said he does not plan to field a weakened side in Spain.
"Barcelona is through at 95 per cent certainly, but we want to go there and play," he said. "We are Arsenal football club."