Arsenal stunned Barcelona, and the rest of the world, with a late comeback win at the Emirates Stadium in the first-leg of the UEFA Champions League last-16 round.
A strong performance in the second half saw Robin Van Persie and Andrey Arshavin each strike in the space of five minutes to claim their first victory over the Catalan side after David Villa had scored the opener midway through the first half.
All in all, it was a classic encounter which matched the huge hype surrounding it.
Arsenal started the game on the front-foot, bombarding forward in numbers and getting the better of the opening exchanges. Theo Walcott was the focal point of their attacks, using his pace to gallivant down the right. On one such run, he raced across the penalty area and found his skipper Fabregas unmarked outside the box. The Spaniard lifted the ball over the defence to find Van Persie's quick run, but the Dutchman's effort on the bounce was blocked by the alert Valdes.
Arsenal continued to attack, but failed to create a clear-cut chance and as the half wore on Barcelona saw more of the ball and gradually got into their stride. The Catalans began stringing a few one-touch passes, and piled the pressure on Arsenal. Messi then missed the target with a dink aimed at the far post after being slipped through by Villa.
Led by the Argentine, who orchestrated most of their attacks, Barcelona continued threatening the Arsenal goal and it didn't take too long for the reward to come. Messi embarked on one of his typical runs through the middle, leaving the Arsenal defenders to chase behind him, before slipping the ball behind Djourou to match David Villa's perfectly timed run. The Spaniard was the epitome of calmness, slipping the ball in between the legs of the onrushing Szczesny to open the scoring.
Arsenal responded with the impressive Wilshere, who found Van Persie just outside the box. But the Dutchman took too much time on the ball, and his final shot was meek.
Barcelona continued to wade forward, in pursuit of the crucial second. And they thought they had it when Messi, again instrumental in attack, combined well with Xavi and Pedro before heading in the rebound of the latter's shot. However, he was judged to be offside and the goal was disallowed.
That was the last piece of significant action in the first half, and as the players walked back into the dug-out, Arsenal fans would have realized that their team needed a much improved second-half performance if they are to stay in the tie, let alone the game.
Whatever Arsene Wenger told his team during half-time, it worked as the side who came out in the second half were much more hungrier and determined. It took Barcelona slightly aback, as Arsenal embarked on a flurry of attacks seeped in energy. Fabregas didn't help however, as his free-kick from a dangerous position was meekly sent straight into the arms of Valdes.
Samir Nasri was more involved in the second half, and his cross to the near post was nicked out for a corner at the last moment by Gerard Pique, away from the sliding Van Persie. At the other end, poor defending by Eboue saw Messi free down the left of the box with Villa and Xavi waiting for the pass along goal, which would have surely ended the game. However, the Argentine chose to shoot himself, and it was sent into the side-netting much to the frustration of Villa.
The game grew increasingly open as the clock ticked on, and Arsenal looked dangerous with their quick counters. However, it took until 79 minutes for the equalizer. Gael Clichy played a big role in the assist, imaginatively clipping the ball over from the left channel and into the box to Van Persie, who struck the ball powerfully with his left and into the goal, beating Valdes at his near post. There was a doubt over whether he meant it as a cross or a shot, while Valdes was at fault for leaving his near-post uncovered. However, Arsenal cared little as they rejoiced with the roaring Emirates.
Against Barcelona, another team would have 'parked the bus', but not Arsenal. They continued their forays into the Barca half, and soon found the winner, from a counter. With Barca committed forward, Nasri had acres of space to run into when a ball from the defence found him in the attacking half. He surged ahead, and unselfishly held the ball, waiting for support. Ignoring Van Persie at the far post, and Fabregas nearer to him, Nasri picked out Arshavin who rushed in from the left and into the D, before smashing the ball first-time past the helpless Valdes.
It was the moment the Gunners had dreamed of, and they celebrated as though they had won the tournament. However, the game wasn't over yet, and they quickly directed their attention back to the game. With two minutes of stoppage time signaled, they had to survive one more scare at the end, when Arshavin mistimed his header back to Szczesny, allowing Dani Alves in. The full-back found Messi, but his shot was blocked by a forest of red legs, before eventually one of them shanked the ball away.
That was the end of the game, and a famous victory was secured for Arsenal. They proved their improvement from last year when Barca had humiliated them. As far as the Catalans were concerned, they were wasteful in front of goal, and were maybe a bit complacent. But take nothing away from Arsenal who thoroughly deserved that memorable victory. It leaves the second-leg at Nou Camp an event better prospect to look forward to!
In the other game, Shakhtar Donetsk stunned Italian giants AS Roma with a 3-2 victory at the Stadio Olimpico. Simone Perrotta opened the scoring for home side in the 28th minute, but Donetsk equalized a minute later through Jadson before adding to the tally with Douglas Costa and Luiz Adriano to go in at half-time with a 3-1 lead. Jeremy Menez got one back for Roma at the hour mark, but they face a daunting task in the second-leg, if they are to qualify for the quarter-finals.