By Josh James at the Nou Camp
Arsenal's Champions League campaign is over for another season, despite a spirited performance in Spain.
In an entertaining encounter, in which both teams had plenty of chances, it was the clinical finishing of Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi which proved to be the difference. Neymar got the ball rolling when he slotted home on 20 minutes to make it 3-0 on aggregate. Mohamed Elneny's first goal in Arsenal colours early in the second half threatened to spark the unlikeliest of comebacks, but Barcelona extinguished those hopes when Suarez volleyed home into the top corner. Danny Welbeck later hit the woodwork, and Alexis Sanchez had a free-kick clawed away by Andre ter Stegen, but Barcelona - and not surprisingly Messi - had the last word when he deftly lifted the ball over David Ospina for the third. It was tough on Arsenal, who must now regroup for the trip to Everton for the early Saturday kick-off in the Premier League.
SETTING THE SCENE
In order to reach the last eight of the Champions League Arsenal would have to achieve something they hadn't managed in three previous attempts - win at the Nou Camp. And not only win, but triumph by at least two-goals, having lost the home leg 2-0 back on February 23. Since that first meeting Arsenal have drifted further behind in the Premier League title race and relinquished their grip on the FA Cup - in fact Arsène Wenger's had won just one of the last seven games in all competitions. So the boss made six changes to the side which was knocked out of the FA Cup by Watford at the weekend. Alex Iwobi came in to make his first Champions League start, in place of Joel Campbell, while Danny Welbeck replaced Olivier Giroud up front. Mathieu Flamini, Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin and fit again Laurent Koscielny also returned –Francis Coquelin, Calum Chambers, Per Mertesacker and Kieran Gibbs were the others to make way. As for the hosts, their form couldn't be hotter, coming into the match on the back of a club record 37-game unbeaten streak, and they haven't been beaten at home since February 2015. As expected, World Footballer of the Year Messi started up front with Neymar and Suarez. Messi scored both goals in the first leg, and netted six times in his two previous appearances against Arsenal on Spanish soil.
The imposing Nou Camp stadium was barely half full at kick off, as the visitors set about their mammoth task from the first whistle. Welbeck had the first sight at goal, released in the box by Mesut Ozil, but the striker's effort was deflected behind for a corner. Arsenal were certainly giving as good as they got in the opening exchanges and on 10 minutes Ozil flashed a shot wide from the edge of the area having carried the ball 30 yards forward after winning possession in the centre circle. The Gunners were looking disciplined at the back too, getting back in numbers to crowd out the dangerous combinations between the talented Barcelona forwards, then looking to spring counter attacks of their own. Hector Bellerin outpaced Jordi Alba on the right flank on one such break. The ball eventually fell to Elneny outside the box, but the Egyptian dragged his effort wide. At the other end David Ospina produced an excellent stop to deny Messi, just as the Argentine seemed certain to open the scoring. Neymar picked out his team-mate in the area and after bringing the ball down, Messi's shot was kept out by the reflexes of Ospina. The keeper could do nothing to prevent Barcelona taking the lead moments later however. This time Luis Suarez threaded the ball through to Neymar, and the Brazilian coolly finished when one on one. The goal certainly settled the home side, who now began to dominate possession. The lively attacking trio of Neymar, Suarez and Messi were starting to find pockets of room around the Arsenal area. The Gunners' defence were working overtime. But three goals behind in the tie, Arsenal had no option but to push forward too, and they were carving out presentable chances of their own. Iwobi flashed a shot wide before Elneny squandered a good opportunity after being set up by Alexis. The Chilean himself was next to go close, heading wide in front of goal, before Javier Mascherano got back well to block Welbeck's shot. At the end of the half Coquelin replaced the injured Flamini, brining up his 100th appearance for the club.
Iwobi, looking perfectly at home on the left wing, had Arsenal's first attempt of the second half, but just like Gunners' shooting in the first 45 minutes, it was off target. Moments later though they did hit the target, and how. Alexis cut the ball back for the advancing Elneny and his crisp first-time finish from just outside the area flew past ter Stegen. It was no less than Arsenal deserved. Back came Barcelona. Messi was continuing his personal duel with Ospina, this time the keeper got down well to push away a low strike heading for the bottom corner. A piece of quick-thinking from Ospina so nearly led to Arsena's second. His drop kick was headed uncertainly back by Jeremy Mathieu, allowing Welbeck to run in on goal. Just as the England man was about to pull the trigger though, Mascherano slid in to block. The game was opening up, but it was the hosts who struck next to restore their three-goal advantage. Suarez expertly met Dani Alves's cross with a fierce volley which arrowed into the top corner, leaving Ospina rooted to the spot. Welbeck struck the cross bar from close range before he was withdrawn, to be replaced by birthday boy Theo Walcott. Giroud also came on for Iwobi, who had impressed on the big stage. Alexis had a free-kick well saved and Giroud's follow up was blocked as Arsenal kept pressing for an equaliser on the night The final word went to Barcelona though. Messi seized on a loose ball in the box then showed typical composure to flick the ball over Ospina into the net.
Referee: Sergey Karasev
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