Arsenal and Barcelona played out a pulsating 2-2 draw in their UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg at the Emirates Stadium. The four-goal spectacular sets up what should be a thrilling return match at the Camp Nou next Tuesday.
In the evening’s other first-leg tie Inter Milan did just enough to see off a resilient CSKA Moscow side, with Diego Milito scoring the only goal of the game. Despite failing to snatch an away goal, the Russians remain well in contention for a semi-final slot.
Arsenal 2-2 Barcelona
Goals: Theo Walcott 69, Cesc Fabregas 85 pen (Arsenal); Zlatan Ibrahimovic 46, 59 (Barcelona)
Inter Milan 1-0 CSKA Moscow
Goal: Diego Milito 65
Goal of the night
Arsenal 0-1 Barcelona (Zlatan Ibrahimovic 46)
The second half had only just started when Gerard Pique collected the ball and advanced to the halfway-line. Looking up, he clipped a fine pass over the top of the Arsenal defence and into the path of Ibrahimovic, who lobbed the bouncing ball over the top of Gunners keeper Manuel Almunia and into the back of the net.
The key moments
A Catalan steamroller: It was one-way traffic in the first half hour of a spectacular game at the Emirates. Brimming with invention and ideas, the reigning European champions bewildered Arsenal with their movement off the ball, earning 70 per cent possession during a 30-minute masterclass. The only reason why Barça’s spellbinding opening failed to yield any goals was the Gunners’ Spanish custodian Manuel Almunia, who pulled off a string of superb reflex saves, several of them from point-blank range. French midfielder Samir Nasri then raised the siege by orchestrating some clever counter-attacks, and though he came close to a surprise opener for the hosts, the match remained goalless at the end of a magnificent first half.
Inter grind it out: Following an evenly balanced first 45 minutes between a well-drilled CSKA outfit and a stale-looking Inter team, the other quarter-final in Milan took on an entirely different complexion after the restart. Whatever Jose Mourinho said at the break evidently had an effect as I Nerazzurri pressed in search of the opener. It duly arrived shortly after the hour mark. Surging into space, Wesley Sneijder set up Diego Milito, who shrugged off the attentions of Sergei Ignashevich before striking the ball low past Igor Akinfeev from the edge of the area. Having finally broken the shackles, Inter exerted even more pressure only for Akinfeev to defy them with some world-class stops. Deciding to run down the clock in the closing stages, the Milan giants conserved their energy for next week’s trip to Moscow, where they can expect a stern examination from the lively Russians.
Lightning strike: Barcelona’s quick thinking at the start of the second half did not just catch the Gunners rearguard by surprise. There were still several empty seats around the Emirates when Ibrahimovic gave the visitors the lead from Pique’s long ball, an unexpected variation on their habitual short-passing game. The Swede’s smart finish triggered another dizzying spell of play, with Victor Valdes quickly forced into action by Nicklas Bendtner’s bullet header. Back came Barcelona, though, and with an hour gone, Xavi took his turn to unlock the home defence, his neat chipped pass teeing up Ibrahimovic to thump home his second of the evening.
Arsene Wenger’s side stuck to their task though. Inspired by the introduction of the speedy Theo Walcott, they chased down every loose ball. It was the substitute who got them back into the game, outpacing Maxwell and beating Valdes with a low shot. Dropping a gear for the first time in the evening, Barcelona began to give away possession and were punished when Carles Puyol was sent off after bringing down Cesc Fabregas in the box. Fabregas converted coolly from the spot to restore parity. Hobbling badly at the end of the game, the Arsenal skipper will miss the second leg through suspension, as will Puyol and his central-defensive partner Pique.
FIFA World Cup™ contenders
England coach Fabio Capello will have enjoyed seeing Theo Walcott spring off the bench and revitalise a fading Arsenal. Also in the stands at the Emirates was France boss Raymond Domenech, who had cause for concern when William Gallas was stretchered off just before the break, and cause for celebration at a probing display by Samir Nasri.
While Barcelona’s raft of Spanish internationals looked in fine fettle in London, the Serbian duo of Milos Krasic and Dejan Stankovic had less of an influence on events at the San Siro.
Tuesday 6 April (quarter-final second legs)
CSKA Moscow-Inter Milan
Have your say
Will the Milito brothers Diego and Gabriel be facing off in the semi-finals?