LONDON • Arsene Wenger poured out the frustration at what he described as another "naive" Champions League moment from Arsenal that hastened a 2-0 last-16 first-leg home defeat to Barcelona and which has given them, in his estimation, only a five per cent chance of progress.
The manager felt his players had managed the tie well, pressing hard and keeping their discipline, even though they had a few scares in front of their goal. Yet they were caught by a counter-attack in the 71st minute that started inside the Barcelona penalty area.
Lionel Messi finished off the move and he added the second from the penalty spot after substitute Mathieu Flamini fouled him only 47 seconds after coming on.
For Wenger, it brought back uncomfortable memories of last season's exit to Monaco at the same stage, when his team lost 1-3 in the first leg at home - a tie in which they were punished on the counter-attack after committing men ahead of the ball.
He said: "We were naive. The regret I had was that once we looked like we dominate the game, we give the goal away. It was similar to Monaco last season - naive, and that is frustrating. We just gave it away.
Barcelona are now unbeaten in 33 matches, a club record.
Lionel Messi finally beat Petr Cech, having failed to fire past the Czech goalkeeper in 611 minutes of football.
The number of passes made by Barcelona. In comparison, Arsenal - the pass masters in England - had a total of 374 passes.
The number of seconds substitute Mathieu Flamini was on the pitch before bringing down Messi to concede an 83rd-minute penalty.
The Gunners have failed to score for the first time in 14 Champions League matches.
"I feel we are extremely guilty and we have no excuse for that goal. We knew that if we have to keep a 0-0, we keep a 0-0. They are better than us. I believe everybody knows that. We could have won the game if we had kept the discipline until the end. And, once again, like against Monaco, exactly the same."
Wenger also lamented a lack of precision in his team's build-up play and the lack of composure in front of goal.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain snatched at a big chance on 23 minutes and Arsenal have now drawn blanks in five of their past eight matches.
"We had an unbelievable chance in the first half and the way we finished our chances is a problem," said Wenger, after watching his team register three shots on target from 34 per cent possession.
"In the final third, at the moment, we miss something. Barcelona are 95 per cent through but we want to go there and play in the second leg. Realistically, it is very difficult, if not impossible. But we have to go there and fight."
Wenger had a gripe about the dramatic manner in which he felt the Barcelona players went to ground but he admitted it did not influence the result.
"Not one goes down without shouting," he moaned.
In contrast, Barcelona manager Luis Enrique had nothing to complain about.
"I liked everything from the very beginning," he said. "We had plenty of possession, we defended very well and we managed Arsenal's transitions (counter- attacks) very well.
"They are one of the best teams in the world with their transitions, but we coped with them, kept the game level and then turned it in our favour. I liked everything that we did tonight and we were the deserved winners."
The one blemish, if any, on Barcelona's performance was a yellow card for Gerard Pique after 85 minutes, which means he misses the return at the Nou Camp on March 16, leaving him with a clean slate for a probable quarter-final in April.
After Messi's penalty conversion put Barca 2-0 ahead, the defender went to the touchline and had a quick conversation with Enrique as the pair covered their mouths with their hands. Soon after that Pique went rushing in with a late lunge on Arsenal substitute Danny Welbeck and was booked.
Enrique denied any skullduggery.
"No, it was not a deliberate foul by Gerard Pique, he had to commit that foul," he said.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS