Advantage Arsenal

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PARIS, February 1 -Arsenal came from behind to edge Barcelona 2-1 in a thrilling Champions League last 16 first leg match on Wednesday, while Shakhtar Donetsk stunned Roma with a 3-2 victory in Rome.

 

Arsenal, bidding to avenge their 6-3 aggregate loss to Barca in last season’s quarter-finals, fell behind to a David Villa goal mid-way through the first half at the Emirates.

They appeared destined for defeat until Robin van Persie drew them level in the 78th minute and five minutes later substitute Andrey Arshavin rolled in the winner to put them in the driving seat ahead of the March 8 return leg.

"They are the best side in football’s history in my opinion," said Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas.

"That is one game and this is half-time. It is a nice victory but that’s all. If we show it here and not at Camp Nou, it is nothing for us."

Arsenal were completely over-run in the first 20 minutes of last season’s quarter-final first leg, but they threatened first this time around when van Persie’s half-volley was well saved by Victor Valdes.

The visitors quickly assumed the upper hand, though, and on 26 minutes Villa put them ahead.

Having spurned a fine opportunity moments earlier, Lionel Messi reprieved himself with a neat through-ball for Villa, who homed in on goal before posting the ball between the legs of goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

Messi had a close-range header ruled out for a contentious offside and Arsenal were perhaps fortunate to reach the half-time break only a goal behind.

The hosts attacked with purpose at the start of the second period but it was Barca who menaced first, with Messi finding the side-netting after Arsenal’s defence had been caught napping.

It was from an error in the Catalan rearguard, however, that Arsenal drew level.

There appeared little danger as van Persie latched onto Gael Clichy’s cute dinked pass down the inside-left channel, but the Dutchman cracked in a half-volley that caught Valdes by surprise to sneak inside the near post.

Moments later the Gunners were ahead, Samir Nasri collecting Fabregas’s clever pass on the right and calmly picking out Arshavin, who crisply tucked the ball into the bottom-right corner with a first-time shot.

At the Stadio Olimpico, a slow-burning first half sparked into life with four goals in the space of just 17 minutes.

Simone Perrotta headed home from Rodrigo Taddei’s cross to put Roma ahead in the 28th minute but a deflected shot from Jadson brought Shakhtar level within a minute.

Brazilian winger Douglas Costa curled in from the edge of the box in the 36th minute to give the visitors the lead before Luiz Adriano made it 3-1 by side-footing home from Costa’s pass four minutes before half-time.

France international Jeremy Menez roused hopes of a home comeback when he bent a glorious strike into the top corner on the hour but the Ukrainians held on to secure victory on their first ever last-16 appearance in the competition.

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