Lionel Messi scored twice European champions Barcelona recorded a 2-0 victory in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash away to Arsenal on Tuesday night.
Barcelona failed to record a single shot on target in the first period, but the Spanish outfit improved after the break and made the breakthrough in the 71st minute when Messi fired home from close range, before the Argentine netted his second from the penalty spot seven minutes from time.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger made a big call in the final third – selecting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain overTheo Walcott, while Per Mertesacker skippered the team from the back.
As for Barcelona, there were no surprises in Luis Enrique‘s selection, with the only omission from arguably his strongest team coming in goal as Marc-Andre ter Stegen kept his European spot ahead of usual first-choice stopper Claudio Bravo.
The first-half chance of the match arrived in the eighth minute when Mesut Ozil found Aaron Ramsey inside the Barcelona box, but Javier Mascherano was on hand to make the block.
A super pass from Sergio Busquets allowed Ivan Rakitic to strike from distance in the 14th minute of action, but the Croatian’s effort was deflected wide of the post as both teams looked to settle.
Arsenal had a wonderful chance to take the lead in the 21st minute when a strike from Hector Bellerin fell into the path of Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the midfielder could only fire at Ter Stegen from close range after some dodgy work from Barcelona in a defensive area.
Messi had a half-chance for Barcelona just past the 30-minute mark after the Argentine was picked out byNeymar, but the attacker’s header was over Petr Cech‘s crossbar.
Barcelona’s potent front three struggled to make their mark in the opening 35 minutes, with Messi firing a poor free kick into the base of the Arsenal wall 10 minutes before the end of the half, before having a powerful strike deflected wide of the post.
Neymar, Messi and Suarez finally managed to combine in the final moments of the first half, but Suarez could not fashion a clear strike from a wide position, before the Uruguay international headed just wide from a super Dani Alves touch. Arsenal were impressive in the opening 45 minutes, but they had to ride their luck in the final moments.
Neymar had a wonderful chance to send Barcelona ahead in the 49th minute when Andres Iniesta put him through one-on-one with Cech, but the Arsenal goalkeeper was on hand to make a fine save.
The visitors continued to dominate possession in the early stages of the second period as Messi and Neymar started to find each other in the final third, but some strong defending from Arsenal kept the score goalless.
Olivier Giroud came close to sending the home side ahead on the hour after meeting an excellent cross from Ozil, but his header was kept out by Ter Stegen during a lively period of the contest.
Suarez had another excellent opportunity in the 66th minute when he found space inside the Arsenal box, but the striker’s effort just fizzed wide of the far post, moments after Mertesacker blocked a shot from Messi.
Barcelona finally made the breakthrough in the 71st minute when Suarez released Neymar down the left – the Brazilian turned on the burners before squaring for Messi, who touched the ball inside before firing into the back of the net.
Suarez should have doubled Barcelona’s lead in the 79th minute when Messi put it on a plate for his teammate inside the Arsenal box, but the former Liverpool forward smashed the post from close range.
The hosts almost had an unlikely equaliser moments after their post was rattled, but Ramsey just could not stretch to meet a knock-down from Danny Welbeck.
Barcelona had their second in the 83rd minute, however, when Messi converted from the penalty spot after Mathieu Flamini dangled out a leg inside the Arsenal box.
Neymar came close to making it 3-0 in stoppage time, but Cech made a smart stop to keep the score down. Arsenal will travel to Camp Nou for the second leg of the last-16 contest on March 16.