|Van Persie’s 78th-minute leveller came after a long spell of domination by Spanish champions Barca [AFP]|
Arsenal struck two late goals to snatch an unlikely 2-1 win over Barcelona in the first leg of
their Champions League last-16 clash at The Emirates.
In Wednesday’s other match, Roma coach Claudio Ranieri was left to fight off loud boos and speculation over his job after an embarrassing 3-2 home defeat by Champions League knockout-round debutants Shakhtar Donetsk.
Barcelona dominated possession in London with wonderful passing, working tirelessly to harass the home side in their short spells on the ball, and deservedly led through a David Villa goal after 26 minutes.
They could have had three or four more but Arsenal levelled out of the blue through Robin van Persie in the 78th minute.
That would have been kind on Arsenal, beaten 6-3 on aggregate by the Spaniards in last season’s quarter-finals, but they got a huge bonus seven minutes from time when substitute Andrei Arshavin swept in the second after a superb counter-attack.
“They are the best side in football’s history in my opinion. That is one game and this is half time,” Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas told ITV Sport.
“It is a nice victory but that’s all. If we show it here and not the Camp Nou, it is nothing for us.”
Dutchman Van Persie, who missed both matches in last year’s quarter-final, said Arsenal had beaten Barcelona at their own game.
|Last 16 fixtures|
Tuesday February 15
Wednesday February 16
Roma 2-3 Shakhtar Donetsk
Tuesday February 22
Copenhagen v Chelsea
Wednesday February 23
Marseille v Man Utd
“In our opinion if you drop back too much they are so good they will beat you, ” he said. “We had to beat them in their own style. It was a fantastic result in the end.”
Arsenal started well and it needed a good save by Victor Valdes to block a Van Persie shot after five minutes following a clever flick by Fabregas.
But it was a false dawn as the visitors quickly settled into their well-worn rhythm, moving Arsenal this way and that before slicing them open repeatedly with practically identical passes between the centre backs.
Messi ran on to the first from Villa after 15 minutes but though the striker’s dummy took Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny out of the equation his dinked finish rolled inches wide.
The goal came when Messi returned the compliment and Villa,in acres of space, tucked the ball away with the minimum of fuss.
It could have been more as Arsenal were chasing shadows with the Spaniards enjoying 61 percent of possession in the first half and completing more than twice as many passes as their
hosts during the match.
When Arsenal did begin to get some of the ball after the break Barca gave them another lesson, this time in the art of closing down, as they showed that like all great teams they know
how to work hard and defend when they have to.
The game seemed to be heading only one way until the ball broke to Van Persie wide on the left with little apparent danger but from a tight angle he lashed a shot that sneaked inside the near post of a flat-footed Valdes.
The goal lifted the crowd and Arsenal responded with a Barca-style counter-attack that ended with Samir Nasri squaring for substitute Arshavin to sweep in the winner.
“It is one of those special nights. It was a great game that did not disappoint,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.
“When you play Barcelona you are always on the border of collapsing but we showed great resilience. It’s open now, we will go there and play our game because you can’t go to the Nou Camp and just defend.”
Barca coach Pep Guardiola, whose side’s record 16-match winning sequence in La Liga was ended in a 1-1 draw with Sporting Gijon on Saturday, was not too troubled by defeat.
“I think we more or less controlled the game and we just need to create the chances we did tonight in the Nou Camp and then take them,” he said.”It will be an open game I am sure. Yes we have lost tonight, but we still have the second leg.”
The second leg at the Nou Camp is on March 8.
Ranieri future in doubt
Three Serie A games without a win and the club being up for sale had already set tongues wagging that Ranieri’s future at Roma was in jeopardy, and the uninspiring display in the last-16 first leg has only raised the pressure.
Flatly asked if he would resign after the multiple defeats, Ranieri responded with a dry: “No, I’m not even thinking of it.”
He put on a brave face over his side’s performance, denying last season’s Italian runners-up were in serious trouble.
“We’re not in a crisis, I didn’t see a team in crisis today,” he said at a news conference where he faced testy questions from reporters.
“A little bit of fragility maybe yes, we shouldn’t have reacted in the impetuous manner we did when we were at 1-1.”
He was referring to the Giallorossi giving up three goals to the Ukrainians in quick succession that left them two down before half time and unable to ever regain the momentum despite a superb strike by Jeremy Menez after the break.
Roma took the lead in the 28th minute when midfielder Simone Perrotta headed in a cross from Rodrigo Taddei off Razvan Rat, but fans had little time to savour the goal as Shakhtar equalised a minute later through Jadson’s fortunate deflection.
The Ukrainians, who looked fresh despite not having played a competitive match in more than two months, then seized control of the match with a lovely curling shot from just outside the area by Douglas Costa on 36 minutes.
Luiz Adriano slotted in the visitors’ third before half time, capitalising on a slip-up by Roma defender John Arne Riise that summed up their frustrating evening.