Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner conceded his team had been comprehensively outclassed by Barcelona as the Gunners crashed to defeat in the quarter-finals of the Champions League this evening.
Bendtner branded Lionel Messi "phenomenal" as the Argentina international hit all four goals as the Catalans eased to a 4-1 win at the Nou Camp for a 6-3 aggregate win. Bendtner, who has scored key goals for the Gunners in recent weeks, opened the scoring tonight to put Arsene Wenger's men into the lead in the tie for the first time, but the visitors had no answer to the holders, who hit back emphatically with the inspired Messi at the heart of their display.
"They were the better team and sometimes you lose like that," the Denmark striker told Sky Sports 2. "They played some really good football. If you are going to lose, you want to lose by the other team playing you off the pitch. They were stronger than us today."
As far as Messi's individual performance, Bendtner was full of praise. "He's a phenomenal player and he showed that again tonight," he said.
Wenger also heaped praise on 22-year-old matchwinner Messi, telling Sky Sports 2: "For me, he is the best player in the world, and by a distance. When he's in the game, he's really dangerous. Once he's on the run with the ball, he's really dangerous."
The Frenchman added: "I believe that we lost against a team that is better than us and have the best player in the world. Congratulations to Barcelona - they were better than us."
While few defences in the world could have coped with Messi on the form he showed tonight, Wenger felt his side were the architects of their own downfall. "Over two games, for a team like Arsenal, we conceded cheap goals. They didn't have to work hard enough," he said. "When you have players like Messi, any mistake you can play for it."
Despite the one-sided scoreline, Wenger insisted his side could have fought their way back into the tie even after Messi completed his hat-trick. "We battled, we came back, we started well and at 3-1 we had chances to come back to 3-2," said Wenger. "We missed a few opportunities where we could have been more dangerous."
Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, so impressive in the first leg, admitted he faced a torrid time in trying to repel the threat of Messi, who hit a hat-trick inside 21 first-half minutes before completing his tally two minutes from time. "You try to anticipate what he is going to do but it is very difficult," the Spaniard said. "He can do whatever he wants and at any moment, and it's difficult to stop this kind of player."