Arsene Wenger hails Barcelona strike trio as players who turn 'life into art'
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has hailed Barcelona's trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez as players who "transform normal life into art" following his team's 5-1 aggregate Champions League last-16 loss to the Catalans.
The French boss also rued his team's missed chances against Barcelona, who already had the upper hand in the match after beating Arsenal 2-0 in the first leg at the Emirates on Feb. 23.
But Wenger would not make excuses even though he said he and the team were suffering after exiting the competition in the round of 16 for the sixth straight year.
"I think I'm pleased with the performance of the team. Our game was good, I'm disappointed with the result, but overall we played against a team with the best strikers I've seen," Wenger said.
"The three together are absolutely exceptional -- they can create a chance from nothing. It was a turning point at 1-1, I could feel they were wobbling a little bit, they were insecure.
"Had we scored a second goal I think we would have created a sensation tonight. But we didn't. And after, anyone of the three up front can score an exceptional goal.
"But I must say Barca, the quality and accuracy of their passing and creativity in the final third, especially Messi is exceptional. Over the whole game he did not miss one first touch.
"You must in our sport admire art -- and they have two or three players who transform normal life into art. I respect that, it is pleasure as well, of course for me it is suffering, but it is exceptional what he does."
Just like in the first leg, the Gunners wasted several good chances to score until Mohamed Elneny netted his first goal for the club to make it 1-1 on the night.
But Barcelona's clinical attack proved the difference as Luis Suarez's spectacular volley ended any resistance from Arsenal and Messi polished off the 5-1 aggregate win with a cool chip over David Ospina.
"We had our chances, but we couldn't take them," Wenger said, having watched Danny Welbeck, Alexis Sanchez and substitute Olivier Giroud all spurn opportunities in the game.
All three up front for Barcelona ended up scoring, with Neymar having netted Barcelona's first goal in the 18th minute. Elneny's goal gave Arsenal some hope of an improbable fightback, but they couldn't find a second goal to really test Barca's nerves.
Arsenal have now exited two competitions in four days, after losing to Watford in the FA Cup on Sunday. The Premier League remains as their last chance of a trophy, but they are 11 points behind leaders Leicester with a game in hand going into another tough away game at Everton this weekend.
"I know it is it difficult to take to go out, but I believe we produced a quality performance against maybe the best team in Europe at the moment," Wenger said. "Well done to them, and I wish them well."
The Frenchman also refused to blame the referee for the defeat after Arsenal's penalty appeals were waved away at 0-0 when Alex Iwobi seemed to have his heel clipped by Javier Mascherano and went down in the area.
"I don't know if he touched him or not," Wenger said about the incident. "He didn't go down on purpose. Did he trick himself because he didn't run well or was he touched? I don't know, the referee decides. Honestly overall, the referee had a good game.
"I leave you with the stats, you are dramatic enough to use that to make sure that we suffer. We must go game by game. In football you look at the last game, and take what is positive, to prepare for the next one.
"We have gone out, it's true, in the last six years against top sides who have won the competition after. Just once against Monaco, others against either Barca or Bayern."
ESPN FC correspondent Mattias Karen contributed to the reporting in this story.