Arsenal lives to fight another day
Arsenal, the dashing sophisticates of British football, were left hanging on like a bloodied bare-knuckle boxer on Wednesday but lived to fight another day as they clawed a 2-2 draw with Barcelona.
That Arsene Wenger's side still have a shot at the semi-finals of the Champions League despite being ripped to shreds for 60 minutes on home turf during a rip-roaring quarter-final, first leg owed much to luck and wasteful Barca finishing -- but above all, old fashioned guts.
If it had been a boxing match, Arsenal would have been stopped long before the end of the first round as unanswered blows rained down on them.
Image: Cesc Fabregas shoots past Victor Valdes
Messi leads Barca charge
With Argentine magician Lionel Messi leading Arsenal a merry dance, Barcelona hit Arsenal from every angle and should have been out of sight long before the hosts recovered their senses in the final 20 minutes.
Theo Walcott, Wenger's final throw of the dice on a night when most of his gambles blew up in his face, came off the bench to spark a recovery with a goal 20 minutes from time before captain Cesc Fabregas equalised with an 85th-minute penalty.
Even Wenger, never overly generous when it comes to praising opponents, was blown away by the quality of play produced by European champions Barcelona for whom Zlatan Ibrahimovic's two second-half goals was meagre reward for a dazzling display of intricate, attacking football.
Image: Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi
'We were outplayed for most of the game'
"I have to say we played against a great team who were dominant in the early part of the game and that's where we were lucky because they had a lot of early chances," Wenger told reporters.
"I don't deny we were outplayed for most of the game, they are an outstanding team. It's hard but you can respect it more when you are not kicked.
"It was art, it was a great football night and it was two teams who went for it, an exceptional football night," he added.
Image: Arsene Wenger
Fabregas to miss return leg
Arsenal will be without Fabregas for the second leg after he was booked for a foul on Sergio Busquets that means he is suspended for the Nou Camp clash although after leaving the ground on crutches his season looks in jeopardy anyway.
They also lost William Gallas to a calf injury, while Russian playmaker Andrei Arshavin limped off in the first half.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, who gave former Arsenal captain Thierry Henry a brief run-out to warm applause from his once adoring fans, described it as the best away performance since he took over.
Image: Cesc Fabregas
Barcelona way ahead of Gunners
It was hard to argue with that as the Catalans launched a ferocious assault.
Messi, the world's best player, signalled his intent with a surging run deep into Arsenal territory in the opening minute, signalling a sustained spell of pressure that produced nine Barca goal attempts in the opening 15 minutes.
Ibrahimovic somehow poked a point-blank effort over the bar from a cross by Daniel Alves and Almunia then saved a Messi blast with his legs before a crazy passage of play saw Messi and Ibrahimovic both denied by the keeper.
Image: Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring
Milito hands Inter slight advantage
Wasteful Inter Milan spurned a host of chances and needed a second-half strike from Argentine forward Diego Milito to beat CSKA Moscow 1-0 in their Champions League quarter-final, first leg on Wednesday.
Milito rifled in a right-footed shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the box in the 65th minute at the San Siro after a strong run by Wesley Sneijder.
Image: Milito celebrates afetr scoring the winner
'I can't start thinking about the semi-final yet'
The hosts failed to put away a series of chances either side of Milito's goal, with CSKA keeper Igor Akinfeyev making some fine saves. Inter striker Goran Pandev also had an effort cleared off the line.
"Unfortunately, I can't start thinking about the semi-final yet," Inter coach Jose Mourinho told a news conference.
"Unfortunately I still have to think about another hard match in Moscow.
"We had chances for a better result - 1-0 leaves the tie open, but we are in front," he said, adding that Inter had "overcome their mental block with the Champions League" after recent disappointments in the competition.
Image: Jose Mourinho
No signs of stage fright
CSKA, who upset Sevilla in the previous round, gave away no signs of stage fright in the early exchanges, with Milos Krasic making a good break down the right straight after kickoff.
Inter, without suspended centre back Lucio and midfielder Thiago Motta, looked to be struggling to find a way through the Russians' defensive maze.
"Today's result could not have been better, but it could have been worse," said CSKA coach Leonid Slutsky, adding that he does not think his club's artificial pitch will give them a big advantage in the second leg.
"The synthetic pitch will not be fundamental for the teams. It has never been unfavourable to our rivals," he added.
Image: CSKA playes react to a free kick