Arsenal unlikely to win Champions League under Wenger, says Gary Lim
Arsenal's repeated failures in Champions League a huge blot on manager's CV
ROUND OF 16, 1ST LEG
(Lionel Messi 71, 83-pen)
For more than 70 minutes, Arsenal showed all the gallantry of a rejuvenated European force.
But, just as belief swelled in the Arsenal ranks yesterday morning (Singapore time), Barcelona's storied trio struck.
A sweeping counter-attacking move that combined the inventiveness and speed of the devastating triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar ended with the Argentinian superstar curling in the 71st-minute opener.
And it was all over.
Messi's late second from the penalty spot hammered the final nail in the Gunners' coffin, leaving Arsene Wenger's men with the near-impossible task of overturning a 2-0 deficit in the return leg at the Nou Camp in three weeks' time.
Arsenal's Champions League campaign is all but over and, for the sixth season in a row, in the Round of 16.
A dejected Wenger later called his players "average" and "naive" in the face of a European superpower.
When it was time to maintain their discipline, near the end of the match, they abandoned their posts.
When the players needed experienced and level heads to remind them to not get carried away in trying to break down the visitors, they were found wanting.
It's the same old Arsenal story - the team lacked the character needed to get through a big European clash.
The resignation in Wenger's tone was glaring.
That sinking feeling permeating through the chill at the Emirates Stadium was all too familiar.
Two decades into the Arsenal job, the 66-year-old Wenger still cannot solve the Champions League riddle.
Ten years after guiding the club to the final, the Frenchman looks much further away from club football's biggest prize than he has ever been.
Once again, he will be defiant and regroup and consolidate.
He will try to lure more stars and convince his current ones to stay for another tilt at the Champions League.
But he likely won't come close to recreating the team that became a special band of brothers that threatened to take the continent by storm.
The Invincibles which went through the English Premier League campaign of 2003/04 unbeaten were his best chance of conquering the Champions League summit.
The aptitude shown by Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell for the big occasion, the craft and finesse of attacking players like Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires, and the explosiveness of striker Thierry Henry formed an intoxicating blend.
The core of that side took them to the 2006 final at the Stade de France, where they were unlucky in a 2-1 defeat by Barcelona.
It remains the only time the club qualified for the final.
The Gunners reached the semi-finals in the 2008/09 season, but since then Arsenal's attempt to win a first Champions League crown has become much tougher, as the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, all peppered with the world's best footballers, battled with Manchester United and Chelsea for the continental prize.
Manchester City have emerged as a force in Europe and Wenger's task has become even greater.
Arsenal have been magnificent in their consistency - this is their 16th straight Champions League campaign - but that would also mean they should have done far better than their record in the competition.
Yesterday's loss was just the latest in a long list of European disappointments.
Wenger will realise that his time is running out.
Well into the twilight years of his career, he is nowhere near cracking the code.
Sadly, for one of football's statesmen, it looks increasingly likely that he never will.
It was obviously a disappointing ending. We defended so well over 70, 80 minutes and then got punished twice.
— Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker
'We were guilty and naive'
47: It took only 47 seconds for Arsenal substitute Mathieu Flamini (left) to foul Lionel Messi and give away a penalty. PHOTO: REUTERS
Arsene Wenger criticised his "guilty" Arsenal team for repeating past mistakes in their 2-0 home Champions League defeat by Barcelona yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The impressive Lionel Messi finished a fine counter-attack started by Neymar and Luis Suarez to give Barcelona the lead in the 71st minute before, in the 83rd minute, winning and scoring the penalty that leaves Arsenal on the brink of elimination.
A combination of wasted chances and defensive lapses felt familiar to those which ended Arsenal's Champions League campaign at the same stage last season against Monaco, where - despite moments of promise - Wenger's team again struggled, and the Frenchman revealed his disappointment that they again performed similarly.
"It's a bit disappointing to give them the goals that we did, especially the first goal," Wenger said. "I feel that we were extremely guilty and have no excuses for that goal.
"They are better than us, everybody knows that, but we could've won the game if we kept the discipline until the end. Once again, like against Monaco, exactly the same thing happened. We were caught in exactly the same way.
"(It was) naive and that is frustrating. We just gave it away.
"We had two or three opportunities to stop the first goal, which we didn't do, because I don't think we had the right response to the situation that our players faced.
"We were impatient in the build-up, we lost balls that we usually don't and that's not because Barcelona forced us to do it, but just because we were not precise enough in our passing.
"We had an unbelievable chance in the first half. The way we finished our chances is a problem, because I felt that we missed something in the final third."
The potential bonus of their likely Champions League exit is that Wenger can focus Arsenal's resources on pursuing both the Premier League title and retaining the FA Cup.
But asked if he would be tempted to play a weakened team in their second leg with Barca, the manager responded: "Barcelona are certainly through, 95 per cent, but we want to go there and play.
"We are Arsenal Football Club and we will not go there to just have no chance.
"Our failure is that the chance was there to beat them, that is the biggest regret I have. Sometimes you can lose against a team and you can do nothing about it, but there was room to beat them."
Barca boss Luis Enrique praised his team's patient first-half performance for the way it tired Arsenal and led to them securing victory during the second.
"Everyone who knows about football knows you need a first half like this in order to have a second like the one we had," he said.
"Arsenal are very good at helping each other collectively and we needed a lot of possession of the ball.
"Arsenal are one of the best clubs in the world when it comes to transitions.
"My players performed perfectly. But there is nothing decided yet - we will have to perform very well in the second leg." - PA Sport.