Despite the disappointment of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final exit, the Arsenal FC players were gushing in their praise of FC Barcelona's four-goal hero Lionel Messi. "When you have someone like him in your team there's a good chance you will win," said right-back Bacary Sagna.
Blown away by Barcelona's slick passing football in the early stages of the 2-2 first-leg draw in London, the Gunners made a more accomplished start at the Camp Nou, even taking the lead through Nicklas Bendtner on 18 minutes. Yet the Dane's strike merely sparked Messi's virtuoso performance, the No10 rattling in a stunning 22-minute hat-trick to leave the hosts in control at the interval. Although the visitors applied sustained pressure in the second half they failed to capitalise, allowing the champions to assert their authority further with a fourth Messi goal in the closing moments.
If Sagna felt the 4-1 scoreline was "very harsh" on Arsène Wenger's charges, he accepted nonetheless that the better side had progressed to a semi-final against FC Internazionale Milano. "Over the two games they definitely deserved to go through," the French international told UEFA.com. "But we played well tonight and posed them a lot of problems. Even when we needed two goals, we still felt we had a chance.
We've shown a lot of mental strength recently, scoring late goals, but when Messi got the fourth we knew the game was up."
Where Messi had been relatively quiet by his standards in the first encounter, the 22-year-old was simply unstoppable in the return. Sagna said: "In my opinion, he's proved again he's the best in the world. He's capable of doing everything. He keeps the ball, he dribbles, he scores. It's very hard to stop him because he has a low centre of gravity and when he turns he is impossible to catch. We left him too much space in the first leg and again tonight, and he punished us." Centre-forward Bendtner was equally generous, saying: "
Messi scored four fantastic goals. He's a phenomenal player and a big part of a great team. He's the best in the world."
Theo Walcott, meanwhile, was looking forward to "sitting back and watching the best player in the world" in the coming days, although he suggested it would take him some time to digest the defeat and turn on his DVD player. "It's disappointing because we made a great start," said the winger, whose lightning break led to Bendtner's goal. "Those five minutes [after scoring] were crucial but we didn't manage to hold on. You can't afford to give Barcelona chances and unfortunately we gave them a couple. But it's been a great experience for us.
Now we have to learn from this."
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