Arsenal 0-2 Barcelona: Messi’s second half brace undoes solid Gunners effort

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Arsene Wenger‘s solid plan to stop Barcelona almost worked, but the reigning champion Blaugranas got a second-half road brace from Lionel Messi to take a 2-0 advantage back to Spain after Tuesday’s first leg in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.

The second leg is March 16 at the Camp Nou.

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Arsenal worked a brilliant spell of possession but found a weak bit of finish as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain couldn’t get enough mustard on his 10-yard shot, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen got low to collect his shot.

Luis Suarez was a hair off, and that helped Arsenal get to halftime after the Uruguayan just missed putting the Blaugranas ahead with a left-footed miss and a just-wide header.

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LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23: Hector Bellerin of Arsenal makes a tackle on Neymar of Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between Arsenal and Barcelona on February 23, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Petr Cech was a difference maker in the first half, and he started the second frame with a sliding stop of Neymar.

Ter Stegen was no slouch himself getting low to stop a header from Olivier Giroud in the 60th minute.

Arsenal employed a high press whenever Barca’s backs got the ball, and it was fairly effective. Plus attack-minded players like Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud made some critical tackles in their own third.

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Thing is, all it takes is a moment, one that came on a Barca counter. Messi was on the business end of a prime chance after a neat 1-2 between Luis Suarez and Neymar down the left wing, and he made Petr Cech slide free of the net before finishing his chance.

It should’ve been 2-0 after Messi teed up Neymar and then Suarez. The Brazilian had his shot blocked and the Uruguayan cranked one off the right post to keep it 1-0.

At the other end, Ter Stegen made a point-blank parry on Aaron Ramsey to keep the score line the same.

It all fell apart in the 83rd minute, as Per Mertesacker fluffed a clearance and Mathieu Flamini, fresh into the contest, took down Messi in the box. No other outcome. 2-0.

Cech made a terrific stop in stoppage time on a substandard Neymar header, and Arsenal can still dream of an upset in Spain.