Arsenal were made to pay for missed chances as they were beaten 2-0 at home to Champions League holders Barcelona, thanks to a second-half brace from Lionel Messi.
The Gunners created the game’s best goalscoring opportunities, but they were unable to find the net and face a huge uphill task at the Camp Nou.
Arsene Wenger’s side fared better in the opening exchanges, with Mesut Ozil teeing up Aaron Ramsey inside the Barcelona box, but the Welshman was off-balance.
Midway through the first half, Arsenal nearly took the lead when Hector Bellerin led a swift counter attack, and whilst his shot was blocked, the ball fell to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose effort from ten yards was tame and caught easily by Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.
On the stroke of half-time, Barcelona created their first clear-cut chance, when Sergio Busquets picked out Dani Alves on the right flank, and his cross found the head of Luis Suarez, but the Uruguayan’s effort was off target.
On the hour-mark, half of the Emirates Stadium were ready to cheer with joy, but Olivier Giroud’s header was clawed off the line by Ter Stegen.
The hosts continued to press, but were caught on the counter after 71 minutes, with Neymar crossing for Lionel Messi who opened the scoring, registering his first ever goal against Petr Cech in the process.
Ten minutes later, Messi had a brace. Mathieu Flamini, who had barely been on the pitch for a minute, swiped at a loose ball in his own area, and brought down the Ballon d’Or holder.
The Argentine made no mistake from the spot, and Barcelona have a two-goal advantage heading into the second leg on March 16.
Meanwhile, last year’s runners-up Juventus kept their Champions League hopes alive after coming from 2-0 down to secure a 2-2 draw with Bayern Munich at the Juventus Stadium.
The German champions were amazed they didn’t take an early lead following a wonderful piece of interplay, but Thomas Muller couldn’t sort out his feet from six yards, and his weak effort was kept out of an empty net by Leonardo Bonucci.
With half-time looming, Pep Guardiola’s men took the lead. Arjen Robben’s cross found Douglas Costa, who sent the ball back into the box, and Thomas Muller was on hand this time to make no mistake.
Shortly after the break, Bayern thought they had sealed the tie, when Robben doubled their lead. The prolific winger was played through by Robert Lewandowski, before cutting onto his favoured left foot and smashing home his team’s second.
Just after the hour-mark though, Juventus had a lifeline. Teenager Joshua Kimmich was unable to clear his lines, allowing Mario Mandzukic to slip in Paulo Dybala, who beat Manuel Neuer at his near post.
15 minutes later, the Old Lady were level. Substitutes Alvaro Morata and Stefano Sturaro linked up well, allowing the Italian to smash the ball into Neuer’s net, giving Juventus hope heading to the Allianz Arena on March 16.