“He made the impossible possible.”
These are the words of Arsene Wenger, who was impressed by Lionel Messi’s skills after a Champions League game between Barcelona and Arsenal in April 2010.
Lionel Messi has routinely made the impossible possible during a career that has climbed unprecedented heights, but rewinding over a decade and his one-handed destruction of the Gunners was among those devastating performances that made his audience realize they were witnessing something special.
The draw for the quarter-finals of the Champions League was played by the defending champions against Arsenal, with the two teams sharing four goals in an entertaining first leg.
Messi – who scored 38 goals last season after taking on the role of Barcelona’s front runners – struggled to sway this game in the Emirates as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored both Barca goals before the home side scored one in the second half Catching up started.
The return, however, belonged to a man.
Nicklas Bendtner made Arsenal fans dream of putting the Gunners ahead at Camp Nou with the opening goal, but any hopes of progress were soon dashed after a fascinating performance by Messi.
Messi had previously only scored one goal against a Premier League opponent, an unusually high header in the preseason final against Manchester United.
Despite his talent and status as the Ballon d’Or owner, the arrogant Premier League perspective persisted that the Argentine cannot really be celebrated until he has proven himself against English opponents.
What followed was an achievement that instead put the spotlight on a unique talent and the best footballer in the world.
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Arsenal’s lead lasted just two minutes as Messi opened his account for the evening and took Pedro’s pass in a central area before earning a stroke of luck when his through ball bounced back on his path from Mikael Silvestre.
While the chance presented, luck was a touch of luck, but the goal wasn’t accidental as the Argentines drove a toxic drive home from the edge of the box to bring Barcelona the level.
Barcelona were dominant, charging further forward in search of a second, with Arsenal’s defensive line falling back again and again when the ball found the feet of the Catalan’s captivating number ten.
Messi’s runner-up hit eight minutes before half-time, Eric Abidal’s overlapping run and a flat cross were only made half clear as Pedro retrieved the loose ball and put a pass in the path of the onrushing Messi.
In front of goal and on his weaker right, the Argentine made no mistake after bringing Almunia to the goal, whose desperate spread at the striker’s feet was in vain.
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The closing stages of half seemed like a damage control job for the Gunners, but their backline was exposed once again before the break.
Barcelona’s game passages had eaten their way through the north Londoners in the first 45 minutes and the high line of the guests was ruthlessly exposed just three minutes before half-time whistle.
Thomas Vermaelen could not win an aerial duel with Messi, the loose ball went to Seydou Keita, whose header forward brought the Argentine flawlessly into the Arsenal half.
Messi started in the center circle before defeating the offside trap and running away in that familiar fashion, with the Gunners’ defense falling behind.
Almunia tried to narrow the angle as Messi neared the edge of the box and stayed upright as he tried to use his body to disable the striker’s options.
Undeterred, however, Messi showed an exquisite boldness to seal his hat trick and send the Camp Nou into uncontrollable delight.
With a gentle lift of his left boot, he ran a gorgeous loft finish up and over the stranded Spaniard, who could only watch in amazement as the Catalan crowd rose again to applaud more Messi magic.
Making the long walk back to the locker room at halftime is the only way to imagine the thoughts of the Arsenal players after receiving Messi’s extraterrestrial brilliance.
This was a footballer who acted on a different level than anyone, both in terms of the players on the field and elsewhere around the world.
Messi was the artist and this was his work of art, with a wondrous left foot to paint his picture to expressively demonstrate his unique and incomparable talent.
Arsenal regrouped after the break and built up a kind of pressure in the second half, with both Tomas Rosicky and Bendtner squandering the limited opportunities they had.
The damage had been done during an irrepressible opening volley from the man of the moment Messi, although Barcelona’s glorious genius still had time to crown an iconic individual achievement.
Two minutes from time, Messi found an alarming spot on Xavi’s casual pass through oncoming traffic and the striker made his way to the goal while trepidation filled the traveling Gunners.
He started centrally before drifting to the left and dashed over Emmanuel Eboue’s outstretched leg before parrying Thomas Vermaelen’s challenge and firing a low-hit cannon from Almunia’s legs.
The loose ball bounced back into his path, Messi making no mistake with his second goal and drilling a light attempt through the goalkeeper’s legs when the Catalan crowd broke out again.
Arsenal had understandably been beaten, the north London side at the wrong end of a feat that remains one of the greatest Messi in a career full of unforgettable moments.
Wenger knew he had seen greatness at its finest by comparing Messi to a “PlayStation” footballer and fantasizing about the heights the South American sensation could reach.
“It’s like a PlayStation,” said Wenger.
“I think he can take advantage of any mistake you make. Barcelona are a very good team but of course they have Messi who can make the difference at any time in the game.
“He is very young, but he can achieve a lot. There aren’t many players who can score four goals like him.
“He has six or seven great years ahead of him and he can be amazing. Touching wood won’t hurt him. “
Fortunately for Wenger and the watching world, those hopes came true when Messi reached unprecedented standards at the height of the game, racking up a record number of Ballon d’Or awards, breaking countless records in the process.
He remains one of the best footballers in world football to the last stages of his career, and when he’s gone those who’ve seen him will tell stories of a football genius.
His devastating four-goal performance against Arsenal was a night few will forget.
Reading – Iconic Achievements: The Night Ronaldinho at the Bernabeu. Received a standing ovation
Also read – Lionel Messi’s five biggest Barcelona goals
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