Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football European

Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal (Agg 5-1): Sublime goals from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi dump Gunners out of Champions League

Arsenal have been knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona after losing 3-1 at Camp Nou and 5-1 on aggregate in the last-16 tie.

Having crashed out of the FA Cup following a 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Watford at the weekend and with Leicester now 11 points clear of the Gunners in the Barclays Premier League, Arsene Wenger's side are staring down the barrel of a trophyless season.

Arsenal could not make the impossible possible on Wednesday night as Barcelona's renowned triumvirate all scored to knock the Gunners out .

Many did not give Arsene Wenger's men a prayer given Barcelona's 37-game unbeaten run heading into a contest in which the Gunners needed to score three times to go through.

They put up a spirited fight against a home side who, in truth, played the game largely in second-gear and secured a 3-1 win courtesy of goals from Neymar, Lionel Messi and a sublime Luis Suarez volley - taking the trio's combined goal tally to 106 for the season - with Mohamed Elneny getting Arsenal on the scoresheet.

Wenger had conceded his side needed to achieve the impossible to advance past the round of 16 stage for the first time since 2010 but, despite a brave effort, it was not to be.

The Frenchman opted to play 19-year-old Alex Iwobi instead of Joel Campbell or Theo Walcott, while Danny Welbeck was played up top and Laurent Koscielny returned at the heart of the defence.

Arsenal started with confidence, unlike that of a team that has won just twice in their last eight games, and Welbeck should have done better when played in on goal by Mesut Ozil but the former Manchester United man stumbled and was lucky to win a corner.

Barcelona soon got into their effective stride but it was the visitors who had the next chance, Ozil pouncing on a loose ball in midfield and charging forward before zipping an effort wide of goal from 20 yards, with Elneny following suit soon after.

But Luis Enrique's magicians soon began to weave their magic, Neymar playing a perfectly-weighted, defence-splitting pass in to Messi - who controlled and shot but saw his strike kept out by a fine David Ospina save.

They were soon ahead, however as Koscielny was caught in possession looking to play out from the back and Suarez took full advantage, playing the ball into Neymar, who finished low past Ospina.

Iwobi wanted a penalty just after the half hour mark but was turned down - with Alexis Sanchez missing Arsenal's best opening of the half as he headed Hector Bellerin's cross wide of Marc-Andre ter Stegen's goal.

After the interval, Arsenal were again on top as Iwobi was played in before seeing his shot blocked behind for a corner before they finally got it right as Sanchez's pass across the area was lashed home by Elneny for the Egyptian's first goal for the club.

Ospina was on hand to keep Arsenal's slim chances alive, again keeping out Messi as he dived to his left to push away an effort from the Argentinian.

A brave block from Javier Mascherano prevented Welbeck getting a shot on ter Stegen's goal as the hopes of the travelling contingent high in the wet Barcelona sky continued to grow.

But it is the hope that kills you - and Suarez finished off the tie with a stunning volley, connecting sweetly with Dani Alves' cross to arrow his strike past a helpless Ospina.

Welbeck hit the bar from an acute angle before he and Iwobi were withdrawn for Walcott and Olivier Giroud - with Sanchez finally working ter Stegen with a well-struck free-kick.

The German stopper also kept out Giroud's follow-up as the visitors pushed for a result on the night but Barcelona were not finished as Messi lifted over Ospina to put the icing on the cake.

Match preview



Wenger said after the FA Cup defeat to Watford that his side now need to "make the impossible, possible" at the Nou Camp - but Barcelona's record in front of their own fans is utterly formidable.

Arsenal have not made it past this stage of the Champions League since reaching the quarter-finals six years ago and, while Wenger's job of continually qualifying for the tournament - and subsequently getting out of the group stages - this looks like another time where the round of 16 will see the Gunners go.


Luis Enrique has certainly insisted it is business as usual.

The Barca coach could have looked to make a few changes - maybe rest Lionel Messi or Luis Suarez to give Arsenal a sporting chance - but he has said he and his players will treat the game with the respect it deserves.

Wanting to extend a record of 37 games unbeaten will also spur on the home side, "37 games without losing is astonishing, and we want to extend it further" - skipper Andres Iniesta said after the 6-0 thrashing of Getafe at the weekend.


The Frenchman may feel he is in a lose/lose situation here.

He could, and most likely will, go full strength in the hope his star players can pull off a major upset - but can he risk losing further players to injury?

Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were recalled against Watford and could not inspire a victory so if one were to take a knock in Catalonia, would it be seen as a derailment of the faint hopes the club have of winning the Premier League?


Virtuoso performances have been hard to come by at the Emirates Stadium since the turn of the year, with even the best of Arsenal's players struggling for form, fitness or both.

Goals have been at a premium as Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott endure struggles, the FA Cup replay against Hull aside, while Sanchez has not looked the same since returning from a hamstring injury.

The Chile international will want to impress against his former club, however, and Ozil always has the ability to conjure up something out of nothing - Danny Welbeck has also looked sharper than many of his team-mates and could be vital to Arsenal's slim chances of progressing.


Sadly not.

Per Mertesacker may have said his attacking colleagues are lacking a "killer instinct" in front of goal - but the German World Cup winner and his fellow defenders must shoulder their portion of the blame for recent results.

Both Watford goals shone a light on defensive frailties, while David Ospina will never be deemed as safe a pair of hands as the injured Petr Cech.

Arsenal did well to nullify the threat of Messi, Suarez and Neymar in the home leg - for 70 minutes at least. Then they caved with errors at the back costing them dear, mistakes which simply cannot be repeated on Wednesday night.

Wenger set to go on offensive

Arsene Wenger is ready to send his Arsenal side on the offensive in Barcelona on Wednesday night - but is aware he needs his defence to hold a hex over the Catalan club's magicians.

The Gunners face the reigning Champions League holders at the Nou Camp needing to overturn a 2-0 deficit having lost February's last-16 home leg, with Lionel Messi scoring twice in the second half in London.

Along with fellow attacking talents Luis Suarez and Neymar, the triumvirate have scored 103 goals this season to set Luis Enrique's side on the path to plenty more silverware.

While Wenger cannot call on anyone as prolific as that from among his own ranks, the Frenchman will throw caution to the wind in an all-or-nothing game for Arsenal.

But he will do so knowing one piece of magic from Barcelona's front three, with Enrique famously saying before the Emirates Stadium clash last month that he simply says 'abracadabra' and they produce the goods, could kill any slim hopes the visitors have of reaching the last eight.

"I believe that the key for us will be a solid defensive performance," he said.

"The advantage in our position is that the task is clear. We have to attack. We will do that but the magicians of Barcelona will make sure that we will need a remarkable defensive performance from our side.

"I felt that our approach (in the home leg) was not so bad. We lost our balance a bit just after half-time. We got caught on the counter-attack at a moment where we looked to be on top of the game, so we are in a position where I don't think we have to think too much.

"We are in a position where we need to score two or three goals. We know that we need to attack and take the game to them."

Travelling home after the game having not achieved what many consider to be almost impossible would be another huge dent it what was promising to be a successful campaign for Arsenal.

But, having fallen from top of the Barclays Premier League at the turn of the year to 11 points adrift and being knocked out of the FA Cup by Watford at the weekend, the pressure on Wenger and his position continues to build.

"Look, I have no doubt about my huge motivation," he said.

"The problem when you are a long time somewhere is that you are always questioned about the duration. I personally don't question. I think I give more time to my club now than when I arrived."

Meanwhile, Enrique may have plenty of attacking options - but the Spaniard is wary of the threat posed by former Barcelona man Alexis Sanchez on his return to the Nou Camp.

Asked if the Chile international may have extra motivation coming up against the side he left for Arsenal 2014, Enrique replied: "Yes there is no doubt about it.

"It would be better for Alexis to answer the question but I'm sure it is a stimulus, he was here for three seasons.

"He is a very important player for Arsenal and also for his national team, he is a quality player and is very fast.

"I think he improved when he came to Barcelona in his way of playing and we have to be careful."

Belfast Telegraph Digital

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph