Champions League

Arsenal fightback stuns Barca

2011-02-17 06:46
Robin van Persie (AP)
London - Arsenal struck twice in five minutes late in the match to snatch an unlikely 2-1 win over Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash at The Emirates on Wednesday.

Barcelona dominated possession with wonderful passing, working tirelessly to harass the home side in their short spells on the ball, and deservedly led through a David Villa goal after 26 minutes.

They could have had three or four more but Arsenal levelled out of the blue through Robin van Persie in the 78th minute.

That would have been kind on Arsenal, beaten 6-3 on aggregate by the Spaniards in last season's quarter-finals, but they got a huge bonus seven minutes from time when substitute Andrei Arshavin swept in the second after a superb counter-attack.

Arsenal actually started well and it needed a good save by Victor Valdes to block a Robin van Persie shot after five minutes after a clever flick by Cesc Fabregas.

But it was a false dawn as the visitors quickly settled into their well-worn rhythm, moving Arsenal this way and that before slicing them open repeatedly with practically identical passes between the centre backs.

Messi ran on to the first from Villa after 15 minutes but though the striker's dummy took Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny out of the equation his subsequent dinked finish rolled inches wide.

The goal came when Messi returned the compliment and Villa, in acres of space, tucked the ball away with the minimum of fuss.

It could have been more as, just as in last season's first half for the first leg of the quarter-final, Arsenal were chasing shadows with the Spaniards enjoying 61 percent of possession in the first half. Xavi alone made 57 passes with an 86 percent completion rate.

When Arsenal did begin to see some of the ball after the break Barca gave them another lesson, this time in the art of closing down, as they showed that like all great teams they know how to work hard and defend when they have to.

The game seemed to be heading only one way until the ball broke to Van Persie wide on the left with little apparent danger but, from a tight angle he lashed a shot goalwards and it sneaked inside the near post of a flat-footed Valdes.

The goal lifted the crowd and Arsenal responded with a Barca-style counter-attack that ended with Samir Nasri squaring for substitute Arshavin to sweep in the winner

The second leg at the Nou Camp Stadium is on March 8.



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