Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger rued a missed opportunity to cause a “sensation” as his side hinted at the impossible before ultimately succumbing to Barcelona’s much-heralded strikeforce.
Midfielder Mohamed Elneny scored to cancel out Neymar’s first-half opener and briefly hint at an unlikely Arsenal revival only for one-time transfer target Luis Suarez to extinguish any realistic hope and Lionel Messi to add late gloss.
While Barcelona extended their unbeaten run to 38 games across all competitions, Arsenal and Wenger were left to ponder a Champions League exit at the last-16 stage for the sixth successive season.
“The turning point was at 1-1 because I could feel they were wobbling a little bit. They were insecure,” said Wenger. “Had we scored the second goal I believe we could have created a sensation, but we didn’t.
“I know it is difficult to take to go out but I believe we produced a quality performance against maybe the best team in Europe at the moment.
“We go out with regrets, of course, but I must say they [Barcelona] have exceptional quality up front and you feel that any little mistake you make at the back they can take advantage of it.
“Barcelona have two or three players who transfer normal life into art.”
No team has ever progressed in a Champions League knockout tie after losing the first leg 2-0 at home and early wayward efforts from Mesut Ozil and Elneny did little to suggest a ground-breaking evening.
Defending champions Barcelona began to turn the screw and Ballon d’Or winner Messi collected a scything pass from Neymar with exquisite control in the 17th minute, only to be denied by a stunning save from Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina.
Moments later the Catalans had the lead as Arsenal conceded cheap possession in their own half, allowing former Liverpool forward Suarez to release Neymar who calmly side-footed past an advancing Ospina.
Requiring three goals to progress, Arsenal established a foothold in the game and after teenager Alex Iwobi had plausible claims for a penalty waved away, Barcelona old boy Alexis Sanchez glanced a free header wide of the post.
Arsenal continued to probe and reduced their aggregate deficit six minutes after half time when Sanchez’s cutback was curled into the top corner of Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s net by Elneny.
Just as the Gunners were posing an increasing threat, Suarez produced an acrobatic bicycle kick to send a Dani Alves cross into the top corner and put the tie beyond doubt in the 65th minute, moments before Danny Welbeck clipped the top of the crossbar.
A Sanchez free-kick was clawed away one-handed by Ter Stegen, who also repelled substitute Olivier Giroud’s follow-up, before Messi notched his 37th goal of the season with a trademark dinked finish over Ospina with two minutes remaining.