The famous front three of Neymar, Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi scored on Wednesday night as Barcelona beat Arsenal 5-1 on aggregate and eased into the Champions League quarter-finals.
Mohamed Elneny’s first Arsenal goal gave the away fans something to celebrate but was nothing but a consolation on a damp night at Camp Nou.
Arsène Wenger surprised everyone with his lineup, starting Mathieu Flamini ahead of Francis Coquelin and giving Alex Iwobi a full Champions League debut rather than selecting Theo Walcott or Olivier Giroud. Per Mertesacker was also dropped and replaced by Laurent Koscielny.
The changes had a good impact, with Arsenal stopping the hosts from keeping the ball early on and creating a number of half-chances on the break. Nothing clear fell our way, but Mesut Özil and Mohamed Elneny, both impressive in midfield, had efforts fly past Marc-André ter Stegen’s goal.
A superb David Ospina save denied Lionel Messi from close range when Barcelona did decide to come forward but the hosts didn’t have to wait long for the opening goal. Giving the ball away cheaply, Arsenal were caught out of position and instantly punished with Neymar adding the finishing touch. Suddenly the Gunners had to score three.
The remaining 30 minutes of the half were good again, though, and more half-chances came to Alexis Sánchez and Danny Welbeck, who couldn’t deliver. Alex Iwobi raced into the opposition box and tripped himself up in the box after a slight touch from Javier Mascherano: it was probably a penalty, but this wasn’t Arsenal’s night.
Mathieu Flamini came off injured at the end of the half, meaning Francis Coquelin would play the rest of the match.
Five minutes after the break Arsenal found a glimpse of hope. Alexis Sánchez, who had just been booked for a challenge on Neymar, found space on the right and cut the ball back for Elneny, who found the roof of the net brilliantly from the edge of the box. Not a bad time for your first Arsenal goal.
David Ospina kept Lionel Messi out at the other end before Javier Mascherano smartly blocked an effort from Welbeck to keep the scores on the night level.
Unfortunately, it was all over minutes later. Arsenal fell asleep in their own third and Luis Suárez volleyed home.
Arsenal hit the bar through Welbeck moments later but the tie was already over with almost half an hour remaining. The next 20 minutes passed like an exhibition before Alexis tested ter Stegen with a brilliant free-kick. The German saved strongly before standing up and denying Olivier Giroud’s rebound.
The icing was put on Barcelona’s cake by Lionel Messi with two minutes remaining. Asleep at the back, Arsenal failed to clear and Messi scooped the ball over Ospina as he so often does.
A strong performance on the night wasn’t enough against a Barcelona said that, in truth, appeared to take the game pretty easily. There were plenty of positives to take so let’s hope the team receive a boost from the match.
As for Europe, there’s always next year!