Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Barcelona 3 - 1 Arsenal (agg 4 - 3)

Ten-man Arsenal succumbed to Barcelona as they were again knocked out of the Champions League by the Catalan outfit.A Cesc Fabregas mistake allowed Lionel Messi to chip a ball over keeper Manuel Almunia and slot in for Barca.Arsenal levelled through a Sergio Busquets own goal before the visitors had Robin van Persie harshly sent off.Barcelona took full advantage as a brilliant move led to Xavi slotting in before Laurent Koscielny's foul on Pedro let Messi score from the spot.
Arsene Wenger's side had their Champions League dreams shattered at the Camp Nou last season when a Messi-inspired Barcelona came from a goal down to win their quarter-final 4-1 and 6-3 on aggregate.
The Gunners' return this time around with a 2-1 lead from the first leg of their last 16 tie was a test of whether they had progressed and developed enough to show the steel and substance to beat the Spaniards.Ultimately, they fell short again and, although the north London outfit will have cause for complaint with the dismissal of Van Persie for a second yellow card, they were given another footballing lesson by the home side.
Arsenal failed to muster a shot on goal as they spent most of the game trying to stop the Barca tide.
Van Persie and Fabregas had missed the defeat at the Camp Nou last season and, although they started this time around, the result was the same as the pair played pivotal roles in Arsenal's downfall.
The Gunners had been forced to swap their artistry for attrition as Pep Guardiola's team quickly set the tone of the game by dominating possession while passing and probing for an opening.Barcelona's work rate in winning the ball back helped keep up their relentless pressure as Arsenal, who had to replace goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny with Almunia early on, could not produce the crisp and controlled passing required to provide some relief.
The brief saving grace for the Gunners was that they were defending with discipline and determination, which was initially limiting their opponents to fleeting chances.
Overlapping Barcelona left-back Adriano hit the outside of the bar with an acute-angled shot before a weaving Messi run ended in him shooting straight at Almunia.
However, as half-time beckoned when Fabregas, who had described the Camp Nou as "mythical" in the build-up, attempted a back-heel to Jack Wilshere 30 yards out only to give the ball away to Iniesta.
The Barcelona midfielder accepted the gift and dinked a ball through to Messi, who brilliantly lofted it over the onrushing Almunia before smacking in a shot.
It was a body blow for the Gunners and, despite being given a route back into the game when a Samir Nasri corner was headed into his own net by Busquets after the break, the visitors quickly suffered another setback.
Van Persie, who had been booked for an earlier foul on Dani Alves, was dismissed for a second booking after attempting a shot at goal just after the whistle had been blown.
It did not take the Catalan club long to make their numerical advantage count as Iniesta produced a wriggling run before finding Villa and his first time pass released Xavi, who slotted in.
Koscielny felled Pedro to concede a spot-kick, which Messi expertly converted, as Arsenal were on the brink of capitulation.
It was only the heroics of Almunia which kept the score down as he denied Ibrahim Afellay and Messi, while Daniel Alves missed a gilt-edged chance.
Arsenal substitute Nicklas Bendtner could have punished the La Liga outfit by getting a goal which would have seen his side win on away goals.
But, when found by a late Wilshere cross, like his team, the striker did not have the quality needed as his control let him down.

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