Arsenal battle out dramatic draw against ten-man Barcelona
Arsenal did well to battle out a dramatic 2-2 draw at home to Barcelona on Wednesday in arguably the best Champions League match of the season, dpa reported.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored two classy away goals for Barca, supersub Theo Walcott pulled a goal back for Arsenal, Cesc Fabregas made it 2-2 from the penalty spot after Barca captain Carles Puyol had been harshly sent off for committing the penalty.
"We should really have hung on and won the match," said Barca defender Gerard Pique who, along with Fabregas, will be suspended for next Tuesday's second leg in the Camp Nou.
"They did well to come back," added Pique, "but we should really have killed the game off."
Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, who made a string of excellent saves in the first half but was out of position for Ibrahimovic's first goal, said that "we showed a lot of spirit to come back like that towards the end."
Almunia added that the "entry of Walcott changed the match in many ways."
Barca coach Pep Guardiola left former Arsenal idol Thierry Henry on the bench and continued with young winger Pedro.
The defending champions made an astonishingly aggressive start, not permitting a nervous Arsenal side to get out of their penalty area let alone their own half.
Ibrahimovic should have turned in an excellent Dani Alves centre, Almunia pulled off sharp saves from Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi, Xavi and Pique.
Barca were enjoying 70 per cent possession and their first goal seemed just a question of time.
Samir Nasri cheered up the Emirates Stadium by going close with a clever shot. Then veteran captain Puyol twice had to save Barca, as Arsenal finally got their act together.
Barca came out for the second half determined to score,and did so after just one minute when Ibrahimovic made it 1-0 with an exquisite lob over the stranded Almunia.
Arsenal were against the ropes and the Swedish striker - who has scored in Barca's last four games - made it 2-0 in the 59th minute with a near-post drive, after being played through by the elegant Xavi.
The tie seemed to be over, but Walcott came on and livened up the dull Arsenal attack.
The England winger pulled a goal back 20 minutes from time with a low shot which the otherwise excellent Victor Valdes should have done better with.
Messi came close to making it 3-1 for Barca, who still seemed in control.
Five minutes from time came the game's most controversial moment, when Puyol was sent off for blocking Fabregas from behind, after Nicklas Bendtner had set up the Arsenal captain with a clever header.
Fabregas made it 2-2 from the penalty spot, but injured himself in the process.
Barca, now a man short, were relieved to play out time and leave with a draw, which obliges Arsenal to earn higher than a 2-2 draw or win in the Camp Nou.
Arsenal will be without Fabregas, suspended, and possibly William Gallas through injury.
Barca, for their part, will be without key defenders Puyol and Pique, who will both be suspended.