Messi makes his point as Barcelona quell Arsenal
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Lionel Messi bagged a brace as Barcelona claimed the first leg of their Uefa Champions League tie against Arsenal 2-0. The victory puts the Catalans on course to advance to the last eight as they attempt to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since the new format of the European Cup was created in 1992.
The holders dominated possession at the Emirates. It was expected but slightly galling for the Arsenal faithful reared on seeing their own team boss proceedings.
Despite relinquishing the high ground of ball control, the home players defended doughtily. France forward Olivier Giroud dropped back to help out in his own penalty area and the German international Mesut Ozil - often derided for a lily-livered approach - was notable for his skirmishing.
The sides went in at the pause level. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scuffed a good chance six yards out midway through the first-half and Luis Suarez headed for Barcelona wide just before the pause.
After repelling waves of Barcelona pressure in the second-half, Arsenal responded with a burst of dominance. Giroud went close and substitute Danny Welbeck's leggy directness appeared to unsettle the Barcelona back line. It was after another Gunners surge that the game changed:
Arsenal's attack broke down as Gerard Piqué headed away a cross aimed at Giroud. Andres Iniesta jumped high to scoop the ball further away from the danger area. That Iniesta's kick ended up at the feet of a Barca team mate was lucky. What happened in the next 12 seconds was anything but.
Neymar picked up the ball pursued by three players. He passed to Luis Suarez and continued his run. Suarez slid the ball through Laurent Koscielny's legs into the path of Neymar who steamed towards the left of the Arsenal penalty area. As Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal came to him, the Brazil star cooly eliminated both players guiding the ball across the box to an unmarked Messi on the right.
Messi collected the ball on his left and thrashed it over the sprawling Arsenal keeper Petr Cech and past Monreal on the line.
The second from the penalty spot seven minutes from time was more prosaic. Cech dived to his left. Messi sent the ball to his right.
The second leg at the Camp Nou on 16 March is already being considered a formality. But not by the Barcelona boss Luis Enrique. "I am happy with everything. There was nothing that I didn't like. Nothing. The result is really good, but the tie is not over. We will have to go out at home to win."
Enrique's counterpart, Arsene Wenger, said his side was not ruthless enough. "Barcelona are a great team. We put a lot of energy in the game but technically we were very average."
He added: "The regret I had was once we looked like we were dominating the game, we gave the goal away. Similar to Monaco last season, naive, and that is frustrating. When we looked like we could win the game, we just gave it away."