The ‘MSN’ all got on the scoresheet as Barcelona eventually defeated Arsenal 3-1 on Wednesday to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.
Barca replaced the suspended Gerard Pique, who picked up his fifth yellow card in the competition at the Emirates Stadium three weeks ago, with Jeremy Mathieu, while Arsene Wenger surprisingly gave starts to teenage winger Alex Iwobi and peripheral midfielder Mathieu Flamini, despite the Frenchman having conceded a penalty in the first leg.
Arsenal quickly had to adapt to playing on the break, but they were no less dangerous as Mesut Ozil needed only a few minutes to drive at Barca’s centre-backs and unleash a shot just wide of Ter Stegen.
Nonetheless, the Catalans weren’t prepared to resort to simply defending as Neymar’s inch-perfect lobbed pass found Messi in the penalty area, but the Argentine couldn’t follow up his deft first touch with the finish to boot as David Ospina made a point-blank save.
Barca were then quick to punish Arsenal’s first mistake as Hector Bellerin was nowhere to be seen when Luis Suarez rolled a perfect pass into space for Neymar to exploit, and exploit the Brazilian did with a slotted finish past Ospina.
Iwobi had shown glimpses of his quality down Arsenal’s left wing, and his side were adamant they should’ve been awarded a penalty, when he fell in the box from Javier Mascherano’s advances, although it appeared a case of the winger tripping himself up.
Arsenal began pressing higher than ever, and Welbeck’s one-two with Iwobi forced Mascherano to make a crucial sliding tackle on the former to deny his curling shot from testing Ter Stegen, before Alexis Sanchez wasted a better chance as he sent a free header wide, just moments after after Messi’s toepoked finish almost wrapped up an electric Barca breakaway.
Barca started the second half poorly and were deservedly made to pay for their lack of application as Bellerin expertly teed up Elneny in a pocket of space outside the box, the Egyptian then curling home a delightful finish into the roof of Ter Stegen’s net.
The goal acted as a wake-up call for Barca, who reacted with a period of sustained pressure on Arsenal's rearguard, almost resulting in a goal as Neymar’s delicious backheel found the overlap of Messi, whose strike was pushed away by Ospina.
An awful header from Mathieu then allowed Welbeck in one-on-one with Mascherano, but the Argentine made a perfectly-timed challenge to block the striker’s shot, and it was the cue for Suarez’s sensational, acrobatic volley past Ospina, which came off his shin.
The goal proved the tipping point in the game, with Arsenal’s heads on a downward trajectory, although they did hit the crossbar through Welback, who ventured down the left, before coming inside and he crashing a shot against the frame of Ter Stegen’s goal.
Yet, the difference in finishing between the two teams was about to be exposed. Ter Stegen produced two magnificent saves to parry Alexis Sanchez’s free kick away and keep out Giroud’s rebound, Theo Walcott then dragging the third attempt wide.
Barca, on the other hand, were able to round off the victory in the dying embers, despite there being a hint of luck about the way Neymar’s through ball for Messi was blocked by Gabriel Paulista and then rebounded into the No 10’s path. Still, the latter made no mistake with a delicate lob over Ospina to ensure all of the ‘MSN’ were on target.
Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal (5-1 agg.)
Neymar 18, Suarez 65, Messi 88 (B) Elneny 51 (A)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Alves, Mascherano, Mathieu, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic (Arda 77), Iniesta (Sergi 72); Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Arsenal: Ospina; Bellerin, Koscielny, Gabriel, Monreal; Flamini (Coquelin 44), Elneny; Iwobi (Walcott 72), Ozil, Alexis; Welbeck (Giroud 77)
Referee: Karasev [RUS]