Two late second-half goals ensured Arsenal will head into the return leg of this Champions League fixture with a 2-1 advantage over the Catalan champions.
When David Villa gave Barcelona the lead midway through the first half it looked set to be a long night for the Arsenal fans. In the end, a vicious angled drive from Van Persie and a cooly swept finish from Russian substitute Andrey Arshavin meant that it would indeed be a long night for the home fans but for a very different reason.
In a re-match of last year's Champions League encounter, Messi again stole the show in the opening exchanges. Put through on goal and with only the inexperienced Szczesny to beat, Pep and the Barça bench started celebrating the opener. After what seemed an eternity, it was the Polish 'keeper who blinked first, dropping his body for that split second and inviting a delicate chip from the Barcelona forward. This time though it missed by a hair's length, leaving Messi as surprised as the 60,000 onlooking spectators who had expected the inevitable. They did not have to wait much longer.
This time Messi turned provider and David Villa was only too pleased to beat the off-side trap and nonchalantly nutmeg the Arsenal goalkeeper. Barcelona had the all important away goal but they should have had more. Messi had a goal incorrectly disallowed for off-side and replays even showed the ball striking an Arsenal defender's hand when in the box. No goal and no penalty. How important that decision could prove to be.
For vast periods of the game Valdes was merely a spectator. The Spaniard did well to beat away a Van Persie volley after a magical dinked ball from Fabregas but must take the blame for the Dutchman's equaliser. A sharp break down the left took Van Persie to the byline and his fierce shot should never have beaten Valdes at his near post. The goal galvanised the home side and was the least they deserved.
At the centre of the park 19-year-old Jack Wilshere gave an outstanding display and Fabregas's price tag was rising by the minute. His ability to find a man in space was uncanny and allowed Nasri to terrify the Barcelona defence. Dani Alves in particular would not have slept a wink last night and was made to rue whatever petty words were said in an early first half confrontation. The skill of the French winger dazzled the home crowd, who never tired of his ability to ghost past players and regularly leave Dani Alves clutching at air. Nasri had the Brazilian right back's number all game and it was no surprise when he again found room and expertly picked out an on-rushing Arshavin in the 83rd minute. The Russian fired into the right corner of the net with the 'keeper unsighted, prompting scenes of ecstasy at The Emirates.
The Gunners have proven that the gap has closed since the 4-1 masterclass of last year but Messi and co will still be confident of victory at the Camp Nou. March 8th is the date set for the second installment of this mouthwatering tie.