One can't but wonder with Arsenal on the ropes, Nicklas Bendtner could have pulled off the most outrageous heist of the 21st century with an almost last minute goal. But as is his wont, the Dane's touch deserted him and Victor Valdes was able to stop him. It was the one clear chance that Arsenal had all evening.
From the very outset it was clear that the visitors would not get too many. Zero shots was the unflattering statistic at the end of the match. In the end Barca's quality saw them through to the quarterfinals, 4-3 on aggregate, with their 3-1 win at home erasing their Emirates loss.
Wenger elected to start Tomas Rosicky, in place of the injured Theo Walcott and on the evidence displayed, the Czech continues to fade in quality. But he was not the only one having an off day.
That surely belongs to a clearly unfit Cesc Fabregas on his Camp Nou return whose singular contribution was an ill advised back heel just when Arsenal were trying to scramble the ball out of danger. Andres Iniesta pounced on the loose ball and Messi timed his run to perfection to receive the pass, glided it over Almunia with his left foot, and guided the ball into goal. It was vintage Messi.
For a fitting response, Arsenal would have to rely on their leader to pull off some of his own magic as he did in the Emirates. But Fabregas struggled with the pace of the game and made way for Nicklas Bendtner in the 78th minute for an increasingly desperate Arsenal.
Arsenal's task was rendered even more difficult when Robin Van Persie was sent off controversially in the 56th minute for failing to check his shot after being whistled offside. Referee Massimo Busacca was unmoved by the "did not hear because of the noise" defence. The Dutch striker had received an earlier caution for striking Dani Alves on the face with his palm. Wenger's plans changed dramatically with his main offensive weapon off the field and with Busquet's fortuitous own goal resulting in a favourable 3-2 aggregate was forced to abandon the defensive high line.
To pull off an Inter was going to take a miracle and kudos go to the much maligned defence and Manuel Almunia for keeping the scoreline relatively tight. The Spaniard came in for the injured Wojciech Szczesny in the 19th minute. He showed some of the same stop saving instincts last year during Barca's 15 minute blitz and came up with some excellent saves. Wenger will also be particularly pleased with how Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou have progressed. They managed to recover in time to stop David Villa and Messi's darting runs and keep the ball in front of them.
However with Barca unrelenting on the ball it was a matter of time before they unlocked the defensive wall. Xavi Hernandez's goal came after Iniesta cleverly worked the ball with Villa providing the lightest of touch to send the number 4 to a rare score. Pedro was brought down by Koscielny after Barca made another one of their countless forays. Messi collected his second through the resulting penalty kick conversion.
Arsenal were well within last gasp heroics seeking to add to their away goal tally but Bendtner was not up to the mark. Their CL campaign is over.
Two down, two to go. For Wenger the end to the trophy drought now rests on the FA cup and the Premiership. He has four days to gear up the team for the 12th March encounter with Man Utd at Old Trafford.