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Champions League Review: Barca Ease Past Arsenal Again

suarez-neymar-messiBarcelona marched into the quarterfinals of the Champions League with a 3-1 victory over Arsenal on a soggy night at the Camp Nou.

Neymar scored in the first half, while Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi added scores in the second stanza to give Barcelona a 5-1 victory on aggregate. The Catalonians have now reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the ninth consecutive time.

 Outside of Jeremy Mathieu in at centre-back for Gerard Piqué, manager Luis Enrique’s starting XI was as expected, with the French defender joining Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba in the back in front of goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen. In the midfield it was the trusted trio of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta, while the MSN of Messi, Suárez and Neymar formed the attack.

Barcelona had a uncharacteristically nervous start, as Arsenal were the better side in the first minutes, with Mesut Özil gladly collecting the ball after an Iniesta error and sending a shot just wide in the 10th minute. Hector Bellerin’s pace was causing a headache on the right flank, and his 15th minute run into the Barcelona half ended with a Mohamed Elneny shot that flashed just wide.

Barcelona finally started to find their footing in the 17th minute and only a reaction save from Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina prevented Messi from scoring the opener after an exquisite pass lofted in by Neymar.

Two minutes later though the Arsenal defence were caught out and Suárez easily picked out Neymar with a pass and the Brazilian cooly fired in past Ospina to hand Barcelona a 1-0 lead.

With the cushion of a 3-0 lead on aggregate, Barcelona played to their liking by possessing the ball and patiently waiting to play passes. But credit was due to Arsenal for continuing to play positive football, and only the inability of the Londoners to breach the Barcelona goal prevented any half-time drama.

The Gunners had a few good looks from Iwobi, Elneny and Alexis Sánchez in the final 10 minutes of the half, but Iwobi fired way high, Elneny’s attempt was blocked and Sánchez sent a header wide of goal.

Arsenal continued their good football into the second half, and in the 51st minute they were rewarded for their efforts. Taking advantage of space in the Barcelona half, Elneny collected a ball in the middle and rocketed in a shot past Ter Stegen to level things at 1-1.

The goal gave Arsenal belief, and those inside the Camp Nou witnessed the rare right of Barcelona being pegged back in their own area. But the home side withstood the brief charge and were once again back carving out chances, namely a Messi shot in the 56th minute that forced Ospina into a diving save.

Yet Barcelona remained vulnerable, and only a late tackle from Mascherano kept Danny Welbeck from possibly scoring Arsenal’s second in the 58th minute. Five minutes later Welbeck again came close, this time with a header that missed the target.

Any hopes of a miracle comeback for Arsenal were extinguished in the 65th minute when Suárez struck to make it 2-1. A ball played across saw Bellerin slip, giving the Uruguayan the time and space to hammer in a volley to essentially kill off the tie.

With Suárez’s goal, the tension level of the match started to dissipate, with the only Arsenal threat coming in the 79th minute when Ter Stegen was called on to save a Sánchez free kick and then blocking the follow up shot from Olivier Giroud.

All that was missing was a goal from Messi, and the little Argentine magician did not disappoint, as he made it a 3-1 contest in the 88th minute by scooping up a loose ball in the Arsenal area and chipping Ospina for the goal.

The final minutes played out without further incident, as Barcelona bid adieu to Arsenal in European competition for the third time since 2010.

Next up for Barcelona is a trip down the coast to face Villarreal on Sunday at El Madrigal.