LONDON – Barcelona’s strike force proved too hot for Arsenal to handle as Lionel Messi scored both goals for the titleholders in a convincing 2-0 victory in the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday.
Messi provided a clinical finish to a breakaway move that featured strike partners Luis Suarez and Neymar in the 71st minute, and then scored an 83rd-minute penalty to seal a tense first-leg match at Emirates Stadium.
The five-time world player of the year decided a game that Barcelona had dominated, even without taking all the chances that came the way of its prolific forward line.
Arsenal created opportunities in both halves, but was mainly engaged in a damage-limitation exercise against a side that the club’s own manager Arsene Wenger described before the game as “super favorites.”
It’s a tag that Barcelona certainly has now.
With two away goals and home advantage to come, Barcelona will be confident of reaching the quarterfinals for the ninth consecutive season after the second leg on March 16 at the Nou Camp.
“I liked everything about Barcelona today, everything from the very beginning,” the Catalan club’s coach Luis Enrique said.
“My players individually performed perfectly and I think we are deserved winners of this game. The score is very good, but nothing is decided yet. We will have to play really well in front of our crowd in order to be in the next round.”
Barcelona had beaten Arsenal in both their previous meetings in the knockout stages, in 2010 and 2011, along with the 2006 final in Paris. Its second-half performance on Tuesday, which combined possession with dangerous counterattacks, was a potent reminder of that track record — and another source of frustration for Wenger.
“They are better than us, and I believe everybody knows that. But I think we could have won the game tonight if we had kept the discipline until the end,” said the Frenchman. “Barcelona masters all aspects of the game, and as soon as you’re in a bad position with one or two players you can get punished.”
Wenger accepted that his side’s chance of advancing hung by a thread, but he said he does not plan to field a weakened side in Spain.
“Barcelona is through at 95 percent certainly, but we want to go there and play,” he said. “We are Arsenal football club.”
Despite the disappointing ending, his side made a bright enough start and carved out a half-chance after only eight minutes.
The holders gradually ratcheted up the pressure, though, and should have opened the scoring on the stroke of halftime. Dani Alves lofted in a clever ball from the right side of the area but Suarez could only flash a glancing header across the face of the goal.
It was a scoreline that seemed to satisfy Wenger, who kept his team on the defensive for the second half.
Yet Barcelona ripped through Arsenal’s defense barely three minutes after the re-start with a superb pass for Neymar, whose shot was blocked in a one-on-one with Petr Cech.
The goal duly came when Suarez released Neymar down the left and Messi had time and space to beat Cech.
“We are extremely guilty, we have no excuse for that goal.” Wenger said.
Juventus claims draw
Turin, Italy — Juventus came back from two goals down to draw 2-2 against Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 match on Tuesday.
Thomas Mueller and Arjen Robben scored either side of halftime for Bayern but Paulo Dybala reduced the deficit with his first Champions League goal shortly after the hour.
That seemed to inspire Juventus, which almost leveled shortly afterward, before substitute Stefano Sturaro grabbed the equalizer 14 minutes from time.
“We need to build on the second half in which the lads played brilliantly,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “We need to improve from the first half but don’t forget that Bayern is a great team, you just need to see how they pass the ball. And we didn’t give them too many chances.
“They dropped a bit in the second half and we got braver. That’s what we need. In Europe you need a lot more courage because what we are doing in the league is not enough.”
Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was mainly a spectator in the first period, when he was often the only player in his half, cutting a lonely figure as far up the pitch as around the center circle.
“We had a really great performance,” said Bayern coach Pep Guardiola. “We can’t forget who we played against: last year’s finalists, champions of Italy the past four years, just won 15 games in a row.”