Lionel Messi effectively condemned Arsenal to a sixth successive exit at the last-16 stage of the Champions League with two decisive goals at Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal battled gallantly to give themselves a chance going into the second leg at the Nou Camp in three weeks’ time – but suffered at the hands of Barcelona’s superstar trio Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.
After Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud had come close to giving Arsenal the lead, Messi scored his first goal against keeper Petr Cech at the seventh attempt when he crowned a blistering counter-attack involving Suarez and Neymar to sweep home a finish after 71 minutes.
And further damage was inflicted seven minutes from time when Arsenal substitute Mathieu Flamini floored Messi with a mistimed challenge and he got up to send Cech the wrong way from the spot. It was his eighth goal against Arsenal in the Champions League.
Suarez hit the post and Cech saved from Neymar as Barcelona took control – but this tie already looks well out of Arsenal’s reach.
Arsenal and manager Wenger will be desolate after this result effectively consigns them to yet another last 16 exit – but they deserve a measure of credit for their display.
In the first half they were hugely disciplined to keep Barcelona at bay, indeed in the first 30 minutes the holders only had two touches in Arsenal’s penalty area compared to 11 from Wenger’s team.
Goalkeeper Cech was immense while Nacho Monreal and Aaron Ramsey were also excellent.
Ultimately, however, Arsenal were not good enough – no shame in that – but all that is left is for Barcelona to complete the formalities in Catalonia in three weeks.