Six years ago to the day, Arsenal travelled to the Nou Camp eyeing an upset in the Champions League quarter-final. Lionel Messi had other ideas.
Barcelona 4 Arsenal 1
A Theo Walcott-inspired comeback saw Arsenal salvage a 2-2 draw in the first leg after a Zlatan Ibrahimovic brace had given Barcelona a two-goal lead. Gunners captain Cesc Fabregas, scorer of the equalising penalty, was ruled out of the return leg after picking up a yellow card. The Spanish giants, meanwhile, could not count on the services of captain Carles Puyol after the defender was sent off at the Emirates.
Messi looked menacing from the off, firing two shots from the edge of the area just past the woodwork. And yet remarkably it was Arsenal who took the lead on the night, thanks to infamous striker Nicklas Bendtner. Abou Diaby burst through midfield and unleashed Walcott on the right. The England international centred to the unmarked Bendtner, and while Victor Valdes saved his first effort, the Dane pounced on the rebound to stun the Camp Nou.
However, only two minutes later, Messi had restored parity with his first of the night, rifling the ball past Manuel Almunia after the ball ricocheted back to him on the edge of the box. The Argentina superstar almost added a second after turning Mikael Silvestre inside out, only to shoot into the side netting, but made no mistake in the 37th minute, finishing coolly after being teed up by Pedro.
Arsenal were being cut to ribbons by this stage, and Messi broke clear minutes before half-time, beating Almunia with a trademark chip to make it 3-1 on the night.
Pedro tried to get in on the act soon after the break, but failed to replicate his team-mate’s chip. Arsenal’s final chance to salvage something out of the tie came to nothing when Bendtner headed Gael Clichy’s superb cross against the post, and inevitably Messi was to have the last laugh. Almunia must have thought he had finally thwarted his nemesis after blocking the forward’s shot following yet more wizardry, but Messi instead kept his composure to slot the ball between the goalkeeper’s legs on the rebound.
Barcelona: Valdes, Alves, Marquez, Milito, Abidal (Maxwell 53), Xavi, Keita, Busquets, Messi, Bojan (Toure 55), Pedro (Iniesta 86).
Goals: Messi 21, 37, 42, 88
Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Vermaelen, Silvestre (Eboue 63), Clichy, Diaby, Rosicky (Eduardo 73), Nasri, Walcott, Denilson, Bendtner
Goals: Bendtner 19
What they said:
Arsene Wenger admitted his team could do little to stop the world’s best:
“I believe we lost against a team that is better than us and that has the best player in the world
“Once he’s on the run, Messi is unstoppable. He’s the only player who can change direction at such a pace.”
Lionel Messi, meanwhile, remained impressively modest:
“What I did isn’t so important but the performance of the team as a whole is what counted.
“It wasn’t a good start for us but thankfully everything worked out well in the end and I’m just really happy that we won the game.”