Lionel Messi scored twice to give the Blaugrana a decisive lead after the first half of their two-legged tie, and Wenger slammed his team's performance while heaping praise on his foes, per Bruce Archer of the Daily Express:
Barcelona is a great team. We put a lot of energy in the game and technically we were very average. The regret I had was once we looked like we dominate the game, we give the goal away.
Similar to Monaco last season, naive, and that is frustrating. When we looked like we could win the game, we just gave it away. Realistically it is very,very difficult, if not impossible. We have to go there and fight. We had the chances, we didn't score.
The result leaves Barcelona with a massive mountain to climb in the second leg and as noted by Matt Dickinson of the Times, even Wenger admitted his side's chances are very slim:
Wenger - "Barcelona are through 95 per cent, certainly".— Matt Dickinson (@DickinsonTimes) February 23, 2016
It's a management dilemma of the highest order in deciding how to try to oppose a Barcelona team comprised of Messi, Suarez and Neymar in all their splendour—and in such fine form at that.
That being said, Wenger sounded downtrodden when asked for his take on the result, explaining it as a shame his side lost so badly despite giving "absolutely everything," per the club's official Twitter account:
The French tactician may have criticised his own players to a degree, but an overriding sense of respect to the opposition shone through in Wenger's post-match comments:
Wenger: "Maybe we felt that we could win the game and then we lost our cautiousness to defend. They're so dangerous on the break." #AFCvFCB— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) February 23, 2016
Indeed, the Arsenal boss claimed that this version of Barcelona is currently the best side on the continent, although he doesn't feel his players are too far off, per AS English:
Wenger asked whether Barça are the best team in Europe: It's hard to deny. I think they are. It was very difficult for us but we were close— AS English (@English_AS) February 23, 2016
In the end, the Premier League outfit's best was far from good enough, and the Gunners' chances of turning the game around in Catalonia seem slim to none.
Even vice-captain Per Mertesacker cast a dejected figure after contending with the likes of Messi and Suarez for 90 minutes, despite some lingering sentiments of determination, per Charles Perrin of the Daily Express:
It’s tough for us now. You’ll never keep them quiet for 90 minutes. You have to score and that’s why we don’t deserve anything. We had enough chances to score at least one. We have to concentrate on the Premier League now, but in a month we’ll face them again with the same courage and bravery. We never give up... we still have a chance.
Tuesday's result was Arsenals fifth defeat to Barcelona in the space of eight meetings, but this result was different in that it was the first time Wenger's men have failed to score against the Blaugrana.
A jam-packed schedule won't let up on the north Londoners anytime soon either, and broadcaster Dan Levy reminded the Premier League contenders of their trip to Manchester United this coming Sunday:
Wenger sounding and looking very disappointed and frustrated. Understandably. Gotta rally the players for Man U on Sunday.— danlevy1 (@danlevy1) February 23, 2016
Barca's counter-attack once again proved to be Arsenal's undoing, and it was ultimately the hosts' admirable pursuit of a first-leg victory that saw them slump in the opposite direction.
Arsenal are scheduled to travel to the Camp Nou for the return fixture on March 16, but Wenger's "naive" Gunners outfit may not feel all that upbeat about their chances of turning the tide in Spanish territory.