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English Premiership

Messi breaks Gunners' hearts

BARCELONA, March 9 – A Lionel Messi brace helped Barcelona to a 3-1 victory over 10-man Arsenal on Tuesday to put them into the quarter-finals of Champions League on a 4-3 aggregate.

The Argentine World Player of the Year was the difference as Barcelona produced another outstanding display of attacking football which left the Arsenal defence stretched from beginning to end.

The Catalan side needed just one goal after losing 2-1 at the Emirates and Messi put them ahead in first-half stoppage time.

An own goal by Sergio Busquets put Arsenal back on level terms but the game turned Barca’s way by the sending off of Robin van Persie two minutes later.

Xavi Hernandez leveled the tie at 2-1 and then Leo Messi scored the decider with a penalty.

While Van Persie labelled the sending off a joke and questioned the validity of referee Massimo Busacca’s credentials for being in charge, a furious Wenger confronted the Swiss official in the tunnel afterwards.

"We lost against a good team but if it had stayed at 11 players apiece then I could accept losing," said the Frenchman, who has seen his side lose in the League Cup final and exit here in the past 10 days.

"Unfortunately that was not the case and we have many regrets tonight.

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The way we lost tonight makes it hard to accept."

Barca coach Pep Guardiola accepted Arsenal were a very good side but pinpointed why they had lost.

"We didn’t allow them to make three or four successive passes this evening," he said.

"We played a perfect game. I am so happy, indeed we all are at our performance. Over the two legs we were better than them."

Arsenal defended deeply as they sought to avoid a repetition of last season’s annihilation when after scoring an early opener they were torn apart with Messi getting all the goals in a 4-1 rout.

A last ditch block by Laurent Koscielny from a Pedro Rodriguez shot after just three minutes set the stall for the Gunners as they attempted to snuff out the threat from Barca’s trident attack led by Messi.

Arsenal suffered a set-back when keeper Wojciech Szczesny was forced off with a wrist injury and Manuel Almunia stepped into the fray.

Koscielny made another important intervention and Johan Djourou made a tackle on Xavi Hernandez who burst into the box but Barca began to get frustrated as the goal did not appear to be coming.

The players remonstrated with the referee for what they saw as time wasting and in a heated spell Van Persie was booked for pushing Dani Alves in the face.

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On the point of half time Barca finally found their way through as Andres Iniesta played in Messi and the Argentine kept his head to delicately chip the ball over the keeper and volley it into an empty goal.

It appeared as though the visitors would be forced out of their shells but they drew level in bizarre circumstances. A corner was floated in and Busquets surrounded by other Barca players directed his header back into his own net.

A deflated home crowd were on their feet minutes later though as Van Persie was harshly given a second yellow card for shooting after the whistle had blown. With the noise from a 90,000 capacity crowd Van Persie could perhaps have been given the benefit of the doubt in his claim he didn’t hear the whistle.

"My sending off was hugely influential on the outcome of the match," Van Persie told Sky Sports.

"It was a total joke. How can I hear the whistle when there are 95,000 fans jumping up and making noise.

"He’s (Busacca) been bad all evening and I don’t know why he’s here.

"They are unbelievable these people."

With a man extra Barca pressed forward and a neat passing move split the Arsenal defence wide open. An Iniesta ball was flicked on by Villa into Xavi’s path and he finished coolly.

Minutes later and Barcelona extended their lead from the penalty spot with Messi slotting home after Pedro was upended by Koscielny.

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