Barcelona couldn't keep a clean sheet for the entire Champions League tie, but they did handle Arsenal with ease, winning 3-1 at the Camp Nou on goals from Neymar and Luis Suarez. That scoreline saw them win their round of 16 tie by a staggering 5-1 margin, sending Barcelona on to the quarterfinals without breaking a sweat, and sending Arsenal limping back to England wondering what on earth just happened.
Arsenal had to find some way, any way, to keep from giving up an early goal if they were going to have any chance of coming back in this tie. Going down a goal in the match would have put them down 3-0 on aggregate and almost certainly ended the tie right then and there, but stopping Barcelona's attack is a tough task.
They managed it at one point, with David Ospina pulling out a top-shelf save on Lionel Messi after Neymar had set the Argentine up with a picture-perfect pass. Neymar looked absolutely flabbergasted that Ospina had stopped Messi's shot -- but he also had that certain glint in his eye that he gets when he wants to do something special.
We didn't have to wait long to find out what Neymar had in mind. In the 18th minute it was Messi playing provider, playing Neymar in so he could just lash the ball past Ospina with ease. That was the goal that Arsenal couldn't afford to give up, but a woeful display from their defense didn't really do much of anything to prevent Barcelona from scoring it.
After that, Barcelona did their best to try to strangle away the tie. Arsenal struggled to keep up any kind of possession, and when they did they found the going difficult as they tried to get forward. They did score off a shot from Mohamed Elneny early in the second half, but it's well worth noting that his shot was Arsenal's first shot on target during the whole game -- and it would prove to be their only one until Arsenal got a short series of shots after a free kick in the 79th minute.
Before that near-breakthrough, though, Barcelona got tired of having the match score be 1-1. They wanted their lead back, so their elite front line went to work, ending with Luis Suarez finding a picket of space in the 64th minute -- enough space to go up and side-volley a cross all the way to the far corner. Just like on Barcelona's first goal, Arsenal's defense simply didn't do enough work to prevent the goal, allowing Suarez to just walk into that space completely unopposed, unmarked, and untracked.
Arsenal kept trying to hammer away, using their substitutes to get better up front with Olivier Giroud and faster on the wings with Theo Walcott. It wasn't enough, though, because they couldn't break down the wall that Barcelona threw up in front of goal -- and then Lionel Messi did Lionel Messi things at the other end of the pitch, flipping the ball over Osipina and into the back of the net to make the game 3-1 and the tie a humbling 5-1 aggregate scoreline.
After that, the only thing to do was to wait for the referee's final whistle. Barcelona never even really looked troubled in this tie, completely dominating Arsenal from start to finish across both legs. If anything, the tie left us with more questions than answers, especially questions for Arsenal as they looked utterly hapless against Barcelona.
One thing is for certain, though: no one wants to draw Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinal round.
Barcelona: Marc-Andre ter Stegen; Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano, Jeremy Mathieu, Jordi Alba; Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic (Arda Turan 77'), Andres Iniesta (Sergi Roberto 72'); Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar
Goals: Neymar (18'), Suarez (64'), Messi (88')
Arsenal: David Ospina; Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny, Gabriel, Nacho Monreal; Mathieu Flamini (Francis Coquelin 45'), Mohamed Elneny; Alex Iwobi (Olivier Giroud 72'), Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez; Danny Welbeck (Theo Walcott 73')
Goals: Elneny (51')
Three questions this game made us ask
1. Maybe Arsenal just aren't very good at this level?
Or maybe they're just really injured and Barcelona are a level above? It's hard to get a good read on this one. But Arsenal definitely didn't look like they were anywhere near as good as Barcelona, and that's been a sadly common theme in the knockout rounds the last couple of years. They look a step slow, a few beats out of sync, and too often mystified by whatever tactics their continental opponents pull out. Something isn't quite right with Arsenal in the Champions League, and they're not going to find long-term success in the competition until they figure it out.
2. Just how good can Messi and Neymar be together?
When Neymar signed with Barcelona, many were worried that he and Lionel Messi would never be able to co-exist, that their styles would clash and one would have to go sooner rather than later. Fast forward to today, and they're playing almost telepathic balls into one another, making perfect supporting runs for each other, and absolutely clowning every defense they come across. The scary part? Messi is only in the middle of his prime years and Neymar hasn't hit his yet. They're going to get better and better as a pairing in Barcelona's attack -- the only question is just how good they can get.
3. Will Arsenal ever fix their midfield?
Starting a midfield of Mathieu Flamini and Mohamed Elneny in a vital Champions League match -- even with the injuries Arsenal are dealing with -- says one of two things. Either you're giving up on the tie and want to let other players rest and recover, or your midfield is just plain bad. The center of the pitch has been a growing problem for Arsenal for years now, but they stubbornly refuse to address it. At most, they take half-measures, bringing in stopgap players who can let them limp through until they sign their next stopgap. Unless they actually do something to improve their central midfield, both in depth and quality, Arsenal will continuously struggle to be a real contender in the Champions League and even in the Premier League.