A brace from Lionel Messi to provide Barcelona with a two goal lead from this first leg may suggest to some the win was a degree comfortable for the visitors, but in truth, it was anything but for the bulk of the night.
In the lead up to the match, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said Barcelona were overwhelming favourites for this tie and spoke of the need for the entire Arsenal squad to be totally focused if they were to stand a chance against the defending champions.
That talk of discipline from Wenger would be vital against a Barcelona side coming into the game boasting an unbeaten run of 32 matches that includes 26 victories and incredibly scoring over 90 goals in the process.
It was, however, Arsenal that started the more positive of the two sides, showing attacking intent from the off and pressing Barcelona high up the pitch in the early exchanges and Aaron Ramsey will be disappointed he didn’t do better with an opportunity to score in the seventh minute, seeing his shot blocked by Javier Mascherano.
As the game settled down, Barcelona began to boss the possession in the way we’ve all been accustomed to see and Arsenal were dropping into a 4-4-2 formation without the ball and pressing deeper than in the opening minutes. The Gunners were showing the discipline their manager spoke of pre-game by containing the European champions very well and looking dangerous on the break; indeed, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a great chance to open the scoring on twenty one minutes, but his shot was driven straight at Marc Andre Ter Stegen.
Arsenal will have undoubtedly gone in the happier of the two teams at half-time and that was perhaps evident by the way Barcelona started the second, showing much more intensity in their play. Just a few minutes in from the re-start, Petr Cech made an important save with his legs to prevent Neymar as the tempo of the game noticeably lifted. Still though, Arsenal had their chances and Ter Stegen had to make a superb diving save from an Olivier Giroud header on the hour mark. Shortly after, a Mesut Ozil free kick was floated into the box, causing a game of pinball before Ramsey smashed it high and wide.
Alexis Sanchez was having to put in a lot defensive work as the signs for Arsenal began to look a little ominous, with Luis Suarez flashing a dangerous ball across the area. With 70 minutes on the clock, those signs became reality when Barcelona broke clear from their own area and in a matter of seconds, Suarez played the ball into Neymar, who found Messi in the box. As expected, he made no mistake, calmly waiting for Cech to commit himself before putting the ball in the net to put the Catalans 1-0 up.
Giroud’s aerial ability had caused the Barcelona defence problems, but he was immediately substituted for Danny Welbeck. The England striker was soon into the game and his pace was causing the visitors different issues, but by now some Arsenal players were beginning to look visibly deflated by conceding after putting in an incredible amount of effort and missing good chances of their own.
After 77 minutes, Suarez hit the post when he should have done better and was almost made to pay for that miss, when just a minute later, Ter Stegen had to make a point blank save from Ramsey. However, with seven minutes left on the clock, Mathieu Flamini, who had only just come on as a substitute for Francis Coquelin, clumsily fouled Messi in the box. The referee immediately blew for a penalty and the Argentinian made no mistake from the spot, sending Cech the wrong way.
It could have got worse for Arsenal in injury time, were it not for Cech making an excellent save to deny Neymar with a header at the near post. Missed chances and very good saves were the story of the match for both teams; Barcelona will wonder how they didn’t completely put the tie to bed and Arsenal will rue their opportunities to still be in it. As it is, overturning a two deficit in the Camp Nou will be a mountain to climb for Wenger’s men as their stout and disciplined performance for 70 minutes wasn’t quite enough against a familiar foe.