Big guns send mighty Barcelona past Arsenal, into last eight

AP

Barcelona’s big three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar all scored to beat Arsenal 3-1 on Wednesday, sending the defending champions into the Champions League quarterfinals for a ninth consecutive season with a 5-1 victory on aggregate.

Leading the tie after Messi scored both goals in a 2-0 first leg win, Suarez passed to Neymar to open the scoring in the 18th minute at Nou Camp.

Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny struck in the 51st, and the English side threatened to add another before Suarez answered with an acrobatic goal in the 65th.

Messi chipped in Barcelona’s third with two minutes to play following a pair of timely stops by goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to protect the lead.

Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger, whose side was eliminated from the round of 16 for a sixth straight year, said Barcelona’s strike trio took the game to the level of “art.”

“We played against the team with the best strikers I have seen,” Wenger said. “The three together are exceptional. Messi is incredible. They are two or three players who transform normal life into art.”

Also on Wednesday, Bayern Munich fought back to beat Juventus 4-2 in extra time to advance.

Barcelona increased its Spanish record streak to 38 unbeaten games, and stayed on course to repeat the treble of European Cup, Spanish League and Copa del Rey titles.

While Barcelona’s march toward a season end that promises even more silverware, Wenger has seen his side exit two of three competitions this week.

Arsenal bowed out of the F.A. Cup last weekend and now must focus on catching Tottenham and leader Leicester in the English Premier League standings.

Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil took the initiative during Barcelona’s subdued start as a light rain came down over the Catalan capital.

But Messi, Neymar and Suarez quickly teamed up to put Barcelona into Friday’s draw for the quarterfinals, taking the three’s combined tally to 106 goals this season.

Moments after Messi forced an excellent save by goalkeeper David Ospina, it was Suarez who caught Arsenal’s back line in disarray. His diagonal pass left Neymar alone to slot a shot under Ospina, who touched the ball but couldn’t keep it out.

“They are able to create chances all by themselves, but they also have a great team behind them to put them into the best position,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said of his three stars. “We are thrilled to have them and to have them providing the first line of pressure.”

Arsenal wasn’t without its share of possession and shots, just a lack of finishing that kept the visitors without a goal before halftime.

The English side found the net after the restart when Elneny blasted home a first-time strike from the edge of the area after Alexis Sanchez slid him the ball from the right side.

Danny Welbeck almost had a second goal for Arsenal after he appeared to have gotten the better of Javier Mascherno, only for Barcelona’s last defender to recover in time and block his shot.

Suarez responded to the rally with an athletic strike that combined both power and finesse. Eyeing Dani Alves’ cross, Suarez leaped, pivoted and struck the ball with his right shin to send it flying into the top corner.

“I don’t know what I struck it with, but it went in,” Suarez said.