Messi, Suarez and Neymar too hot to handle for Arsenal
Barcelona 3 Arsenal 1
Published 17/03/2016 | 02:30
Somewhere in a parallel universe Luis Suarez is scoring jaw-dropping volleys in an Arsenal shirt and Arsene Wenger doesn't go out of the Champions League in the last 16. Not here though.
The man for whom Arsenal famously bid £40,000,001 in 2013 gave another demonstration of why he is worth at least double that sum with a stunning volley that put paid to Arsenal's European aspirations for another season.
The goal came just as Arsenal were beginning to believe they could pull off what would have been the shock of their Champions League history. Mohamed Elneny had equalised Neymar's opener and they had come close to scoring the first of the two goals they needed to go ahead on aggregate. But Dani Alves found space on the right and, when he crossed deep to Suarez, the Uruguayan sprang from the wet Nou Camp turf and thundered a right-footed volley past David Ospina.
Lionel Messi added a third and the win extended Barcelona's unbeaten run to 38 games. That's a whole season in league terms. Wenger once coached a team that did exactly that - this Barcelona side, with Suarez leading them from the front, are every bit as worthy of the 'Invincibles' tag. Arsenal started well enough. Suarez miskicked as he tried to play his first pass and then Danny Welbeck sliced the ball out of play, but the referee gave a corner despite protests from Barcelona defenders. Perhaps things were going to go Arsenal's way.
As Luis Enrique had promised, Barcelona attacked as if chasing the game and that gave Arsenal licence to counter-attack into the wide open spaces of a very wet Nou Camp. Mesut Ozil got away from Sergio Busquets but his shot went just wide of Marc-Andre ter Stegen's right-hand upright.
Barcelona were guilty of over-elaborating with their next attack, Jordi Alba playing one too many passes looking for Messi on the edge of the six-yard box.
The conditions were making it difficult for some players and were helping others. Ter Stegen almost slipped as he tried to play his way out of his own six-yard box. But Hector Bellerin flew down the right leaving Alba in his wake - not many players are capable of doing that.
Messi plays the same way whatever the weather and he had the first clear-cut chance of the night. Neymar played a long diagonal ball into the box, Messi took one touch to bring the ball under his spell and then went for power but Ospina spectacularly turned his shot away for a corner which Jeremy Mathieu headed wide.
Arsenal were beginning to wobble and Neymar opened the scoring after 18 minutes. Suarez made the goal, doggedly harrying the Arsenal defenders into mistakes and winning the ball in space 30 yards out before sliding the perfect pass to Neymar, who had got goal side of a back-tracking Bellerin. The Brazilian beat Ospina at his near post for his 80th goal in a Barcelona shirt.
The Bellerin-Alba contest was fascinating - two Barça boys born and raised who both felt they had to go elsewhere to further their careers. Alba is back at the Nou Camp after making the grade at Valencia and Bellerin was impressing supporters who believe he could, like Alba, come back some day. Alba got behind Bellerin with their next attack but Neymar failed to beat Ospina from his cross.
Arsenal were still threatening on the break, but without making the breakthrough. Alex Iwobi tripped himself up in the penalty area under pressure from Javier Mascherano, and referee Sergei Karasev waved for him to get to his feet. Replays showed the Argentine defender had nudged the Arsenal forward before he got himself in a tangle.
Alexis Sanchez then had the chance to silence the stadium that once applauded him. Bellerin crossed from the right and the Chilean rose to meet the cross but headed it well wide. Shortly afterwards, Mascherano took the ball off of Welbeck's toe as he prepared to shoot from inside the six-yard box.
Arsenal were enjoying their best spell of pressure but, as they found out in the first leg, this Barça team can play on the break if they have to and Messi underlined that threat when he drifted away from Iwobi with a sublime first touch.
Arsenal's football had been good in the first half but, as in the meeting at the Emirates three weeks ago, Barcelona had taken their chance and Wenger's team had not. His tactic of playing Mathieu Flamini did not make it to half-time. He hobbled off just before the break, replaced by Francis Coquelin.
The rain was still coming down on the 2,000 or so Arsenal supporters high up in the third tier of the Nou Camp, but six minutes into the second half they finally had something to celebrate.
Sanchez played the ball inside to Elneny and, from the edge of the area, he hit an unstoppable shot that flew into the roof of Ter Stegen's net. Just another two goals and the miracle comeback would be well and truly on.
Welbeck almost took them halfway there from just inside the Barcelona area but, for the second time on the night, Mascherano blocked the shot with a goal-saving challenge.
Barcelona's lethargy was encouraging Arsenal and only their finishing was letting Arsenal down. Welbeck headed Ozil's corner wide as they kept up the pressure without the end product. Luis Enrique - soaked in his technical area - was now concerned. He needn't have been.
After 65 minutes Alves crossed from the right and Suarez scored the best goal of the 42 he has scored in all competitions so far this season. The rocket volley from Alves' cross was a goal as soon as he took flight to get his full body weight behind the ball.
There was still time for Messi to add a third on the night, giving Gabriel the slip and shooting high into Ospina's net. For Arsenal, Sanchez forced Ter Stegen in to a fine save from a well-struck free-kick but the night belonged to Suarez - the man who replaced him at Barcelona and the man whom Arsenal once tried to sign. (© Independent News Service)