Whatever Arsene Wenger said at halftime seemed to work a charm.
Arsenal's bright start vaporized as Barca began painting pretty little triangles all over the Emirates. It all looked hauntingly familiar as Andres Iniesta fed Leo Messi squaring off to Villa before breaking away with the return as the Arsenal defense gave futile chase.
This should have been a goal given Messi's lethal touch with his left foot but Wojciech Szczesny showing some smarts made himself large and the ball squirted just wide off the far post. The Emirates exhaled collectively. However, the little maestro more than made up for his miss by threading a pass to David Villa kept fractionally onside by an inattentive Gael Clichy. The former Valencia striker made no mistake placing his shot beyond Szczesny to give Barca the lead in the 26th minute. Messi seemed to be on target in the 35th minute but to the great relief of the Gunners was declared offside.
With Barca exhibiting its trademark rigor mortis on the ball the Gunners were destined for a long evening. Dani Alves was given acres of space to roam and pillage down the right. A few breakaway moves saw Van Persie well placed to test Victor Valdes but the Dutch striker was profligate in his inaccuracy.
All this changed after halftime as an assured Arsenal began pushing back Barca. There was more width to the attack as players rotated more freely to receive passes. This created space and allowed better movement than the first half. Van Persie finally got his shot on target which was duly stopped by Valdes. But Arsenal were nipping on the door as the minutes ticked by.
Arsene Wenger brought on Andrey Arshavin for Alexander Song in a risky gamble but it proved pivotal to what followed. At the other end Pep Guardiola signaling closing down shop subs Villa for Seydou Keita.
Gael Clichy hefts a ball bound for the byline. Van Persie racing down corrals the ball and from an impossible angle lashes it past Valdes and the near post. This in the 78th minute and the Gunners with their tails up went looking for the second goal. Five minutes later Fabregas sends Nasri scrambling down the right. The Frenchman faced with a choice cuts back and lays the ball square as Arshavin arriving from distance drives the ball past Valdes without hesitation. Arsenal 2 Barca 1.
Arsenal then endure a few harrowing minutes before close but Szczesny showing an inkling of the real deal comes up with some timely saves. But Laurent Koscielny proves to be the last minute hero as he takes care of Dani Alves open look at goal.
Jack Wilshere gets better and better. Cesc Fabregas came alive against the club that desires his homecoming. Samir Nasri showed why he was missed. The Arsenal defense which gets so much flak really stepped up and Koscielny and Johan Djourou should be singled out for bottling up the dangerous Dani Alves in the second half and stopping the darting runs of Leo Messi. And in Szczesny, Wenger might finally have Jens Lehmann's successor. A special note for Arshavin. May this be the goal that finally unleashes him from his funk. He's far too talented to wallow in mediocrity.