In a game marred by controversy, but not short of quality, Barcelona became the first team to qualify for the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League with 3-1 win (4-3 on aggregate) against ten-man Arsenal at the Nou Camp.
Lionel Messi couldn't quite match the four-goal thriller of last year, but he did score a brace sandwiching Xavi's goal to give Barcelona a deserved win over Arsenal, who looked on course for qualification after Sergio Busquets headed in a corner into his own net.
Switzerland referee Massimo Busacca gave the impression of suffering from nerves as though the enormity of the occasion had got to him. He called a number of wrong decisions, which included a really harsh second yellow card to Arsenal striker Robin Van Persie, who had to be led off the field after remonstrating the decision.
However, despite the controversies, the Arsenal defence was shredded on more occasions than one, and had it not been for substitute keeper Almunia, who came on for the injured Szczesny in the first half, the Gunners would have found themselves losing to a far more humiliating scoreline.
The Catalans were on the attack from the word go, threading and stringing many passes together to ping Arsenal back. The visitors could barely hold the ball for more than 30 seconds in a first half, which saw a combination of bad finishing, luck and good goal-keeping keep the Gunners in the game.
Pedro had the game's first shot on 4 minutes when a chipped ball from Xavi fell behind the defence and into the box for him to run onto. However, Szczesny saw the danger and was out of his lines to snuff off the effort for a coner.
As the half-progressed, Barca heaped more pressure on Arsenal, but weren't able to get Messi involved in the game. Arsenal, despite their manager Arsene Wenger's promise that they would attack, were unable to venture forward without risking mayhem at the back. It was therefore a half in which Barca were camped inside the Arsenal side of the field.
Arsenal center-back Koscielny was the first name in the book after needing to pull back Pedro to prevent him from a sight on goal. 35 yards away, the free kick was taken direct by Dani Alves, and though it was gathered by Szczesny, he injured his finger in the process and could no longer continue. Barely 20 minutes in, Arsenal were forced into a substitution and had to bring on Manuel Almunia for the devastated Szczesny.
It was just Almunia's fourth game since September, having played his previous three against lower league opposition, and it was thought Barca would heap the pressure as soon as he stepped on. However, it took until the half-hour mark before Barca came close again. A cross from Adriano down the left was cleared only as far as Pedro right outside the box, and the Spaniard's attempt to curl it into the top-left corner wasn't too far.
Messi began finding the ball increasingly at his feet and he embarked on his trademark runs, coming close on two occasions, but denied by the backtracking Djourou on both. Messi then drove a free kick straight into the wall, as tackles began flying. Tempers began to flare after Iniesta brought down Wilshere with a hard challenge. A couple of Barca players tried to intimidate the youngster, but Arsenal's own old-guard was quickly at his side. Dani Alves had his hands on Van Persie's face, though it went unnoticed, and the issue began boiling over.
Play eventually resumed but was stopped immediately when Van Persie deliberately pushed Alves on his face, still reeling angrily from Alves' unnoticed push on him earlier. It brought the players together again, and it earned the Dutchman a yellow card - a decision he would go on to rue later.
The distraction broke Arsenal's concentration, and at the stroke of half-time, Messi gave Barcelona the lead. It all started from an unexpected source though. Arsenal had defended and marshalled out a Barca attack until Fabregas attempted an unnecessary back-heel just outside the Arsenal box. It landed up at the feet of Iniesta who slipped Messi through. The Argentine's first touch was as perfect as it could get but his second was even better as he lifted the ball over the diving keeper before volleying in with his third.
That was the last action of the first half, and Arsenal went into the break knowing they were facing elimination while Barca knew they needed to improve their finishing.
Arsenal didn't quite impress at the start of the second but they equalized within 8 minutes of the restart. Arsenal won a rare corner through Samir Nasri and as he whipped it in from the left, Sergio Busquets inadvertently headed the ball into his own net to hand Arsenal a life-line.
However, any sense of optimism Arsenal would have had was quickly dimnished when Robin Van Persie earned a harsh second yellow card, reducing Arsenal to 10 men. The Dutchman rushed onto a throughball lashed the shot into the sidenetting, but was judged offside. He was shocked, as was the rest of the Arsenal team, to turn around and find himself with a second yellow card, a subsequent red, for dissent. He vainly argued his case, gesturing that he couldn't hear the referee whistle amidst almost 90,000 strong Nou Camp whistles.
However, from thereon, it was all Barcelona. Their onslaught began, and it took many brave saves from Almunia to keep Arsenal in the tie. After 10 minutes of high pressure attacking, Arsenal broke through when good play from Iniesta and Villa saw Xavi let through and his low shot beat Almunia to equate the aggregate score.
Two minutes later, Barca made it 3-1. Continuous attacking saw Koscielny trip Pedro in the box and Messi stepped up to expertly fire it into the corner, sending Almunia the wrong way.
Arsene Wenger brought on Arshavin and Bendtner for Rosicky and the ineffective Fabregas, but the only real chance Arsenal created came when Wilshere did well to cross for Bendtner who was closed down by Valdes. Arsenal could have gone through on away goals had they scored one more and the tie finished level on aggregate, however, it never looked likely. Barcelona were a much better outfit and fully deserve their place in the quarter-finals.