Daily Mail can reveal that Wenger wanted to sign three players in 2003 – Messi, Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas – with the promise of playing first-team football in their teens.
Incredibly Messi was interested in moving to north London, but the deal was fraught with problems because of issues over the Argentina forward’s work permit.
Messi eventually became a Spanish citizen in 2006, but that was three years after Wenger’s audacious attempt to pull off one of the biggest signings in world football.
Wenger signed Fabregas after convincing the Spanish midfielder that his progress to the first-team would be quicker.
Fabregas, now at Chelsea, made his first team debut for Arsenal in a League Cup game a month after he arrived at the club.
At the time he was only 16 and he went on to make more than 200 appearances for the Gunners before he returned to Barcelona in 2011.
Messi made his debut for Barcelona when he was 17 years, 114 days old under Frank Rijkaard, but he had to wait until the 2006-07 season before he really established himself as a first choice.
By then Fabregas had started a Champions League final against Barcelona at the Stade de France. Messi was on the bench that night alongside Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
Pique, meanwhile, moved to Manchester United in 2004. He played just 12 league matches in four years (which included a season on loan at Real Zaragoza) before returning to Barcelona, where he has become the focal point of the defence.