Barca masterclass sinks Arsenal

Ten-man Gunners crash out as Lionel Messi inspires Barca into European Champions League quarters.

    Van Persie described his sending off as a 'total joke' [AFP]

    Lionel Messi returned to haunt Arsenal netting a brilliant goal and a penalty to help Barcelona win 3-1 and advance to the European Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday.

    Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, Barcelona dominated the game from the very beginning at the Nou Camp, and were given a helping hand as luckless Robin van Persie was sent off for a very soft second yellow card early in the second half.

    The English club came from a goal down to win last month's first leg in London 2-1 and looked to be heading into the last eight when Sergio Busquets headed into his own goal in the 53rd to make it 1-1 on the night.

    However, Van Persie was sent off three minutes later for a second yellow card and left the field protesting that he had not heard the referee blowing his whistle for offside over the din before he took a shot.

    Xavi struck in the 69th minute and Messi stroked the ball home from the spot in the 71st after Laurent Koscielny's foul on Pedro and Barca advanced 4-3 on aggregate to knock out Arsenal for the second straight season.

    In the evening’s other game Shakhtar Donetsk beat AS Roma 3-0 to advance to the last eight for the first time.

    'Total joke'

    "How could I hear his whistle with 95,000 people jumping up and down?" Van Persie asked in a television interview with British broadcaster Sky Sports.

    "It was a total joke this sending off. It had a big influence (on the rest of the match)."

    Ruled out last week by manager Arsene Wenger, Van Persie was a last minute inclusion on the plane and passed a late fitness test.

    Arsenal defended deeply as they sought to avoid a repeat of last season's annihilation when after scoring an early opener they were torn apart with Messi getting all the goals in a 4-1 rout.

    A last ditch block by Laurent Koscielny from a Pedro Rodriguez shot after just three minutes set the stall for the Gunners as they attempted to snuff out the threat from Barca's trident attack led by Messi.

    Arsenal suffered a set-back when keeper Wojciech Szczesny was forced off with a wrist injury and Manuel Almunia stepped into the fray. Barcelona looped ball after ball behind the Arsenal defence who most of the time were chasing shadows.

    Koscielny made another important intervention and Johan Djourou made a tackle on Xavi Hernandez who burst into the box but Barca began to get frustrated as the goal did not appear to be coming.

    The players remonstrated with the referee for what they saw as time wasting and in a heated spell Van Persie was booked for pushing Dani Alves in the face.

    Messi masterclass

    Results & fixtures

    Tuesday March 8

     Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal
     Shakhtar 3-0 Roma

    Wednesday March 9

     Schalke 04 v Valencia
     Tottenham v AC Milan

    There was no disputing however that the Argentine World Player of the Year Messi was the difference as Barcelona produced another outstanding display of attacking football which left the Arsenal defence stretched from beginning to end.

    On the point of half time Barca finally found their way through as Andres Iniesta played in Messi and the Argentine kept his head to delicately chip the ball over the keeper and volley it into an empty goal.

    It appeared as though the visitors would be forced out of their shells but they drew level in bizarre circumstances. A corner was floated in and Busquets surrounded by other Barca players directed his header back into his own net.

    A deflated home crowd were on their feet minutes later though as Van Persie was harshly given a second yellow card for shooting after the whistle had blown.

    With a man extra Barca pressed forward and a neat passing move split the Arsenal defence wide open. An Iniesta ball was flicked on by Villa into Xavi's path and he finished coolly.

    Minutes later and Barcelona extended their lead from the penalty spot with Messi slotting home after Pedro was upended by Koscielny.

    An aggrieved Arsene Wenger felt the game had been going Arsenal’s way: "At the moment he [the referee] made his decision it was a very promising game, very interesting."

    "If you have played football at a certain level you cannot understand this decision. It's impossible."

    "I felt we would have come back into the game. Overall I am convinced we would have won this game."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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