Lionel Messi Says Barcelona 'Knew' Arsenal Would Fade in Barcelona Clash

Rory MarsdenFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2016

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23 :  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona  during the UEFA Champions League match between Arsenal and Barcelona at the Emirates Stadium on February 23, 2016 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Lionel Messi said his Barcelona side knew Arsenal could not keep up their intensity for 90 minutes in Tuesday's last-16 UEFA Champions League clash.

The Argentine superstar netted twice in the last 20 minutes at the Emirates to earn Barca a 2-0 lead in the tie following the first leg, and he revealed after the match how persistence paid off, per Catalan TV3 (via the Daily Star's Luke Gardener):

"The first half they did very well, they are physically very strong. We knew they could not keep that up in the second half, as it's very difficult. We found more spaces, on the counter-attack, and that's where the first goal came from."

Barca are now heavy favourites to advance to the last eight after the second leg at the Camp Nou on March 16.

Luis Enrique's side extended their unbeaten run to 33 consecutive matches with the victory in north London, and they currently look unstoppable.

Highlights of the encounter can be seen below:

Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe has Barca placed at the top of his European club rankings, and it is difficult to work out who might stop them in their pursuit of a second-consecutive treble:

Arsenal were significant underdogs going into the last-16 tie, and there now looks to be no way back for the Gunners.

In Champions League knockout meetings with Barca back in 2010 and 2011 Arsenal claimed a draw and a victory, respectively, from their opening home legs, but they were then knocked out following the Camp Nou clashes.

Heading to Catalonia looking to turn over a two-goal deficit is almost an impossible task.

Per Spanish football writer Dermot Corrigan, Arsenal paid for going on the attack at 0-0:

Indeed, the hosts' eagerness to get a goal allowed Barca space to work in and eventually led to their downfall.

Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar—arguably the best front three of all time—were always going to be difficult to stop, but Arsenal were doing a decent job of it for the first hour.

However, Messi eventually made the Gunners pay, and a Champions League exit at the last-16 stage for the sixth season in a row now looks inevitable for Arsene Wenger's side.