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Lionel Messi gets 9/10 as Barcelona beat Arsenal 2-0 in UCL last-16 first leg

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi scored from a brilliant counterattack that sliced open Arsenal's defense.

Lionel Messi double stuns Arsenal

A cold-hearted Lionel Messi double secured Barca's 2-0 victory against Arsenal in the first leg of the Champions League last 16. The Catalans didn't dominate the game in their typical manner but did enjoy 68 percent of possession, created 15 goal-scoring chances and attempted eight shots, four of them on target and one to the post.

Spurred by their relentless home crowd, Arsenal piled on the pressure from the kick-off. With the Blaugranas unable to impose their usually fluid rhythm, the Gunners grew in confidence as the game developed and deservedly created the better chances in the first half.

Fortunately, Barça took a step forward after the break and piled up continuous pressure in the hosts' defensive third. Despite Arsenal's determined defending, a moment of brilliance from their world-class attacking front-line unbalanced a game that had been far too close to call until that point. With the hosts chasing a much-needed equaliser, a clumsy challenge in the hosts' penalty area enabled Messi to score a crucial second goal that leaves Arsene Wenger's side with a mountain to climb in the second leg.

Barça didn't deliver a vintage performance by any means but the effectiveness of their world-class attacking trident was enough to extend their unbeaten run to a record 33 matches. It also meant that they are the clear favorites to secure a place in the quarter-finals.

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Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):

GK Marc Andre Ter Stegen, 8 -- Despite being far more involved than usual, the German secured the crucial clean sheet after making a mere three saves. The Gunners clearly lacked the necessary composure in front of goal to put away their chances but it's also true that the German goalkeeper responded remarkably when challenged.

DF Dani Alves, 7 -- Constantly galloping forward and admirably disciplined when tracking back, the 32-year-old Brazilian delivered one of his most complete performances in recent memory.

DF Javier Mascherano, 8 -- Incredibly focused throughout, the Argentine international looked unbeatable defensively and faultless on the ball. As usual, the astute No.14 read the game impeccably and always managed to find himself in the right place at the right time.

DF Gerard Pique, 8 -- His awareness enabled him to pick up the pieces whenever his defensive teammates were beaten. Earned a late booking, which means he will miss the return leg at the Camp Nou.

DF Jordi Alba, 7 -- Forced to focus on his defensive duties far more often than usual, Alba had his work cut out throughout the whole game. Battled ferociously for every loose ball and did not hesitate to use his enviable speed to overcome the many challenges he faced.

Lionel Messi's two late goals have put Barcelona on track for a spot in the UCL quarterfinals.

MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- Recovered nine balls in the centre of the park, which enabled the visitors to dominate possession for the bulk of the game. Connected well with the many creative teammates around him to ensure the ball kept moving quickly enough and the Gunners kept chasing shadows.

MF Andres Iniesta, 7 -- In his 578th game for Barça, the captain was the crucial link who ensured his front three was constantly provided with quality passes and found in advantageous positions. His dribbling, decision-making skills and admirable perseverance were key to unlocking Wenger's robust back-line.

MF Ivan Rakitic, 7 -- The Catalans' workaholic was instrumental at both ends of the pitch. While the Croatian international didn't contribute many moments for the highlight reel, his work rate and selfless attitude were major factors in Tuesday's vital victory.

FW Neymar, 7 -- Provided Messi with a superb assist for the visitors' opener after a lightning-fast counter-attacking run. However, the Brazilian star was far quieter than usual until that point and largely unable to beat former La Masia prospect Hector Bellerin down the left flank. Rarely getting behind the Arsenal back-line, and wasteful in front of goal whenever he did, it would be fair to say Neymar wasn't as consistent as Cules are used to.

FW Luis Suarez, 7 -- Should have scored the opener in the last minute of the first half but his clear header went inexplicably wide. Disappointingly, Suarez also failed to find the net after the break, hitting the woodwork with what was his best chance of game. Despite his lack of fortune in front of goal, the Uruguayan's physicality and ambitious nature were vital to create space for others to exploit.

FW Lionel Messi, 9 -- Burst into life in the later stages of the first half and didn't look back until the final whistle. The best footballer on the planet scored the priceless away goal with a cold-hearted finish that changed the game. Used his enviable pace to get ahead of Mathieu Flamini to earn the penalty which he then converted. Until Tuesday, Messi had failed to score a single goal against Petr Cech despite having faced him six times -- another day, another stat broken for the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Francesc Tomas is a freelance Catalan columnist who writes for Barcablog.com, WeLoveBarca and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @TomasESPN.

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