Arsenal stun Barca in fightback

Fabregas haunts old club with equalising penalty after dominant Catalan display.

    Theo Walcott came on to spark Arsenal's fightback at the Emirates Stadium [EPA]

    Arsenal overcame a Barcelona onslaught to come back from 2-0 down to secure a draw in the first leg of their European Champions League quarter-final – with Barca old boy Cesc Fabregas scoring the equaliser.

    Two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic had seemed to set the seal on a dominant performance from the European champions before Theo Walcott came on as a substitute and immediately pulled one back for the Gunners on 69 minutes.

    Fabregas' 85th-minute penalty was virtually his last act in the tie after being booked in the first half, meaning he misses a dream return to the Nou Camp next week.

    The Arsenal captain had been a major doubt for the match with a knee injury and hobbled through the last five minutes at the Emirates Stadium with the English side having used up their substitutes.

    Puyol sent off

    That came after Andrei Arshavin and William Gallas were taken off injured, but it was Barca who ended up with 10 men after Carles Puyol was sent off for bringing Fabregas down for the penalty.

    With just a few minutes of the game gone on Wednesday, it seemed inconceivable that Arsenal would get anything out of it with keeper Manuel Almunia pulling off a string of unfeasible saves.

    "I know that we played against a great side but we gave two cheap goals was beyond understanding"

    Arsene Wenger, Arsenal manager

    Barcelona had nine shots on target to Arsenal's none in the first half, but it was Almunia's error that handed the Catalans the lead just 25 seconds after the break.

    Swede Ibrahimovic – who had never scored against an English side in 10 previous encounters – tracked a long ball over the top and looked up to see the Spanish keeper come off his line.

    A gentle lob saw the ball nestled in the Arsenal goal.

    Nicklas Bentdner should have equalised for the home side on 53 minutes but his thumping header from Gael Clichy's cross was straight at Victor Valdes.

    Then another simple ball over the top from Maxwell saw Ibrahimovic lose Alexandre Song and fire the ball past Almunia at his near post for a second valuable away goal.

    The Gunners seemed dead and buried but Walcott – the only Englishman on the pitch in London – sprinted past Maxwell on the right to sidefoot the ball home.

    It was left to Fabregas to win the penalty and give his team some chance in his absence in Spain next week.

    "In fairness to the players they kept their resilience and kept going, they (Barca) missed chances and we missed chances and it's unbelievable that it was 2-2," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told ITV.

    "I know that we played against a great side but we gave two cheap goals away.

    "The way we gave the goals away today was beyond understanding."

    Inter lead

    Inter Milan will take a slender lead to the Luzhniki Stadium next Tuesday after beating CSKA Moscow 1-0 at the San Siro on Wednesday.

    Results & fixtures

    Tuesday March 30

     Bayern Munich 2-1 Man Utd
     Lyon 3-1 Bordeaux

    Wednesday March 31

     Arsenal 2-2 Barcelona
     Inter Milan 1-0 CSKA Moscow

    Second legs on April 6 and 7

    Diego Milito scored the only goal of the game during an Inter siege in the second half after a thoroughly forgettable first 45 minutes.

    Jose Mourinho's team, listless in the first period, were unrecognisable after the break and will be disappointed to have managed only the one goal.

    That it stayed 1-0 was thanks largely to goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, a reported target for Manchester United who will have bolstered his burgeoning reputation with this performance.

    The only blot following a flurry of saves came on 65 minutes as Wesley Sneijder passed to Milito, who found the bottom right hand corner from the edge of the area.

    Meanwhile England and Manchester United were waiting anxiously on Wednesday for news of a scan on key striker Wayne Rooney's ankle injury, just 10 weeks before the World Cup in South Africa.

    Rooney limped off in the closing minutes of United's 2-1 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich on Tuesday and left the Allianz Arena with his right ankle encased in a plastic boot.

    Rooney was to have an MRI scan and will be hoping that it does not reveal serious damage and leave the 24-year-old facing the same desperate race for fitness he endured before the 2006 World Cup. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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