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UEFA Champions League

  • 8 March 2011
  • • 19:45
  • • Camp Nou, Barcelona
  • Referee: M. Busacca
  • • Attendance: 95486

Barcelona win Aggregate 4 - 3

Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal (Agg 4-3): Messi runs the show again as controversial Van Persie red card ruins Gunners' Champions League dream

Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal (Agg 4-3): Messi runs the show again as controversial Van Persie red card ruins Gunners' Champions League dream

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Catalans dominate as Gunners struggle in Spain again

Arsenal suffered heartache at the hands of Barcelona in the Nou Camp for the second successive season as the Spanish champions moved into the quarter finals of the Uefa Champions League with a 3-1 victory, winning the tie 4-3 on aggregate.

Barcelona dominated the match with their slick passing game which stunted anything Arsenal tried to create, and two goals from Lionel Messi and one from Xavi won the game for the Catalans with Sergio Busquets scoring an own goal for Arsenal’s consolation. However it was the controversial sending off of Robin van Persie that helped swing the game in Barcelona's favour after the Gunners' fortuitous equaliser.

vs * How the players fared
* Wenger: Red card denied us victory
* Van Persie: The referee was a 'joke'
Guardiola: We outplayed Arsenal

Arsenal were given a huge boost before kick off as both Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas were declared fit and named in the starting line-up. The Dutchman had been substituted in the League Cup final with a knee problem and Fabregas injured his hamstring against Stoke City a month ago, but both men recovered quicker than expected.

Arsene Wenger made three changes from the side who won the first leg at the Emirates with Bacary Sagna, Tomas Rosicky and Abou Diaby coming in for Theo Walcott, Alex Song and Emmanuel Eboue.

Barcelona lined up without usual centre-backs Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique due to injury and suspension respectively, so Eric Abidal was partnered with Sergio Busquets in defence with Javier Mascherano taking Busquets’ place in central midfield. The Catalans only other change from the first leg saw Adriano come in for Maxwell at left full back.

The match began, as expected, with Barcelona controlling possession and Arsenal looking to break on the counter attack, and the first chance fell to the hosts in the fourth minute. Pedro made a good run in behind the Arsenal defence, he was found with a lofted pass from Xavi but Koscielny recovered well to deny the chance and concede a corner.

Arsenal survived a scare in the 13th minute after a mistake by Johan Djourou allowed Mascherano to release Messi one-on-one with Kosicelny, but the defender muscled the Argentine off the ball superbly. However, he slipped as he attempted to clear the ball but a wonderful sliding interception from Jack Wilshere stopped David Villa getting a shot on target.

With Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola permanently positioned in his technical area, marshalling his troops, the hosts were dominating possession but finding it difficult to break through the last line of the Arsenal defence.

They did test Wojciech Szczesny in the 16th minute from a long range Dani Alves free kick but the Polish keeper was able to gather the ball, but it would prove to be his last involvement in the game, as he was substituted straight away with a finger injury and replaced by Manuel Almunia.

Arsenal’s normally neat and confident passing game was nowhere to be seen as the pressure of chasing the ball seemed to affect them building up their own periods of possession. And Barcelona nearly made their constant pressure pay in the 28th minute, only for a strong tackle from Djourou to deny Messi inside the penalty area after another trademark run. The loose ball fell to Pedro but his left foot shot from the edge of the area sailed over Almunia’s goal.

Five minutes later Barcelona tested Almunia for the first time since his introduction. Xavi released Villa who had found some space between Sagna and Djourou. The Spanish international took the ball to edge of the penalty area, and despite pressure from Djourou, was able to get his shot away but it lacked power and Almunia saved easily.

And the hosts continued to be apply the pressure, and were extremely unlucky not to be awarded a  penalty after Diaby appeared to bring down Messi on the edge of the penalty area. But the referee turned down the Argentine’s appeals, and seconds later a neat passing move saw Villa release Adriano inside the penalty area on the overlap but his fierce left foot drive smashed against the post and rebounded away.

After so much possession and so much domination Barcelona finished the half the much stronger side, with Messi again going close to opening the lead. Andres Iniesta raced away from inside his own half as Arsenal pushed on for the first time in the match. The Spaniard found Messi, who jinked past Clichy but his shot was straight at Almunia who clutched onto the ball gratefully.

Nonetheless, Barca broke the deadlock a minute later after a terrible mistake from Fabregas on the edge of his penalty area. The Arsenal captain attempted to back heel a ball to Wilshere, but it fell to Iniesta, who found Messi with a delightful pass, and what followed was pure magic. Messi controlled the pass, and lifted the ball over the advancing Almunia, before firing a volley into the back of the net to give the hosts the lead at the break.

Tough Battle | Dani Alves and Samir Nasri tussle for the ball during a tight first half

The second half started as the first had ended, with Barcelona dominant in possession but there were more forays into the hosts' half from Arsenal to give them hope of getting back into the tie.

And in the 53rd minute they were handed a lifeline, thanks to a mistake from stand-in centre half Busquets. Samir Nasri battled hard down the Arsenal left wing to earn his side a corner, and from the resulting set-piece, Diaby was unable to reach the cross but the ball struck Busquets and the ball flew past Victor Valdes in the Barcelona goal.

A minute later Arsenal were lucky not to go behind again as Villa was released inside the penalty area, but Almunia stayed up and made a good save, before his defenders cleared the ball to safety.

Arsenal’s task was made much harder three minutes after their goal as Van Persie was controversially dismissed for a second bookable offence.

The Dutchman looked to get on the end of a ball over the Barcelona defence but he mistimed his run and was flagged offside. However, the striker controlled the ball and fired a shot wide of goal which referee Massimo Busacca deemed to be kicking the ball away to waste time, and he issued a second yellow card and a subsequent red.

Despite the protests of van Persie and his team-mates that the striker had not heard the whistle, due to the crowd noise, the Dutchman had to make his way to the dressing room and leave his team to withstand more pressure with 10 men.

With Arsenal a man short the Barcelona charge really began, and Villa had two excellent chances to put his side back in front but was denied by Almunia again. Villa’s first chance came when Xavi released him inside the penalty area but as he was about to release his shot, Almunia made a good save. Minutes later Messi released the striker inside the penalty area but again Almunia saved, this time with his body, and Sagna cleared the ball to safety.

However in the 69th minute Barcelona did get themselves back in front through their inspirational captain Xavi. The build-up to the goal was beautiful as the Catalans sliced through the middle of the Arsenal defence as Iniesta glided past two challenges before finding Villa, he rolled the ball first time into Xavi and he calmly fired past Almunia.

And just two minutes later Barcelona extended their lead further after Koscielny brought down Pedro inside the penalty area. Pedro received a pass from Xavi and touched the ball away from the Arsenal defender before being tripped; Messi stepped up to take the spot kick and calmly fired the ball into the bottom corner of the net, with nonchalant ease.

With a lead on aggregate secured, Barcelona began to keep even more possession and chances continued to be created, with two clear opportunities for substitute Ibrahim Afellay.

With seven minutes to play the Dutchman was released by Adriano down the left. He held off the challenge of Djourou but his right foot shot sailed wide of goal. Two minutes later another passing move saw Messi release the young Dutch winger, but this time he was denied by a good save by Almunia.

But it would be the Gunners who were presented with a final chance to win the tie. With three minutes left to play, Wilshere and substitute Nicklas Bendtner broke away from the Barcelona defence before the Englishman cut the ball back for his team-mate.

But the Dane was unable to play the ball away from the backtracking Mascherano, who slid expertly to snatch the ball, as Arsenal's Champions League died, one again, in the Nou Camp.

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