Arsenal struck twice in five minutes late on as they staged a stirring comeback to beat Champions League favourites Barcelona on a night to savour at the Emirates.
The Premier League outfit were attempting to follow in the footsteps of arch-rivals Tottenham after their magnificent win against AC Milan in the San Siro on Tuesday – and they were not to be outdone as they made it a memorable 24 hours for north London in Champions League combat.
Arsene Wenger’s side were intent on proving a point after losing 6-3 to Barcelona over two legs at the quarter-final stage last season and they achieved their objective without sacrificing their long-held principles.
For all the talk of Arsenal attempting to make it a physical confrontation with the lavishly gifted Barca stars, the Gunners continued to play their trademark passing game and reaped a rich dividend in a frantic finale.
Samir Nasri’s availability after a hamstring injury provided a real bonus for the Gunners and they started with admirable attacking intent. A wonderful moment of invention from Cesc Fabregas, lifting the ball over the Barca defence, forged an early opening for Van Persie but keeper Valdes was alert and made a crucial block. Barcelona’s response was the lacerating passage of play that has become their trademark. Villa sent Messi clear, but the little Argentine over-elaborated with a routine finish and not only guided his effort over Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny but wide of the far post.
Arsenal had done little wong when Barcelona took the lead when Messi, inevitably, was the creator with a pass that cut Arsenal open, leaving the lethal Villa to stride forward and score with typical expertise.
As Wenger’s side struggled to recover Szczesny did well to block Pedro at his near post before the Gunners broke the Barcelona stranglehold and Van Persie should have done better than to fire wildly off target when well placed.
Messi had the ball in the net just before half-time but he was adjudged offside, and both sides traded blows again as the second period unfolded, Barcelona appealing in vain for a penalty as Villa collided with Laurent Koscielny and Van Persie again testing Valdes from the edge of the area.
After the break, Arsenal improved significantly and were rewarded for their fine efforts when Gael Clichy superbly found Van Persie whose shot somehow eluded Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes at his near post. Then, substitute Andrey Arshavin sent Arsenal’s fans into ecstasy with a crisp finish after a fantastic build up. This was after Lionel Messi gave the ball away to the outstanding Laurent Koscielny.
So, Arsenal take a slender lead to the Nou Camp for the second leg. I feel that if Arsenal score first but not too early then Arsenal have a great chance to go through.