Arsenal have so often been there or thereabouts in the knockout stages of the Champions League. They were defeated 2-1 in the 2006 final to Barcelona and in the last two years have run Bayern Munich, the strongest team currently in Europe, close. They just have not been able to quite step up their game enough and the same can be said for their match on this day in 2010 at Camp Nou. Or, more fairy perhaps, they just do not have a Lionel Messi.
The first leg of this quarter-final clash was largely dominated by the Spanish side, but with Manuel Almunia on top form, the Gunners escaped with a 2-2 draw. It was a decent result, but with the Catalan side having managed two away goals and always excellent at home, their work was more than cut out for the return leg in Spain.
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The difference on the day was Messi. Manager Arsene Wenger started with Eduardo on the bench, which meant that Nicklas Bendtner was trusted to lead the line for his side, with Theo Walcott coming in for support. It was the sort of occasion that the confident Bendtner fancied his chances in, but despite playing reasonably well in what might have been quite an even game, with Messi on the goalscoring form that he was Arsenal simple did not stand a chance of getting through.
Arsenal had come from 2-0 down in the first leg, which technically became 3-2 on aggregate when Bendtner silenced the home crowd - briefly - with a strike after 18 minutes. Arsenal dared to dream, but they were not long behind again on away goals when Messi scored his first of the night. His attempted through-ball went straight to Mikael Silvestre, but the Frenchman could not control it and the Argentine thrashed the ball beyond Almunia.
The equaliser came just two minutes after the opener, and it proved to be a blow from which Arsenal just could not recover. Messi might have been fortunate that the ball fell back into his path, but by half time he had almost single-handedly wrapped up the tie. He rifled one shot into the side-netting, before he was set up by Pedro to take a touch and guide it neatly past the Spanish goalkeeper. Arsenal now needed one for extra time or two to win.
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With Messi rampant not many sides have the ability to stop him, and Arsenal's back line of Silvestre and Thomas Vermaelen were no exception. Just three minutes before the break and 21 after his first on the night, the diminutive Argentinian had his hat-trick. This one was the best of the lot, as he latched onto Seydou Keita's headed through-ball to stay calm and delicately clip over Almunia - his favourite type of goal once more timed to perfection.
In truth, the goal did not change much from when Barca were 2-1 up. Arsenal still needed two goals to go through, it was just that extra time was no longer a possibility. Wenger decided not to push his side too far forward and as such the second half was quite a tentative affair. Tomas Rosicky shot well over the bar and Bendtner struck a post with a header - although he was offside - and that was as close as the Gunners came to making a tie out of it.
It was left to Messi, of course, to wrap up proceedings late on. He got past Emmanuel Eboue and Vermaelen all too easily with a jinking run before finishing low from his own rebound after Almunia had kept out his initial shot. Barca went on to take on Inter Milan in the semi-finals, while Arsenal went home thinking what might have been if not for the magic of Messi.