Barcelona drew 2-2 with Arsenal in London the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg, and the Camp Nou visitors had hope ahead of travelling to Spain. However, Lionel Messi was the man to disappoint Arsene Wenger and the Gunners in devastating display.
When Niklas Bendtner gave Arsenal a 1-0 lead on April 6th, 2010, it meant after 18 minutes, the Gunners were 3-2 up on aggregate in the heart of Catalonia. But it didn’t take long for the real show to begin, courtesy of a certain Lionel Messi.
The feats achieved by Messi seem to increase by the year, but one of his greatest moments (aside from all the multiple awards and trophies) could be said to have come on this single day.
In 2010, Messi was already well established on the world stage. Four years after he was left out of the 2006 final squad against the Gunners, where he was four years later, ready to make amends for his absence before.
Barcelona’s core has always had Messi at the centre of it. And when Bendtner struck his early blow, the Catalans needed a leader.
After a few sighters on goal, the first of his four came in minute 21. He ran at the Arsenal defence, playing an inadvertent one-two with the doomed Mikael Silvestre before hammering a powerful shot past Manuel Almunia.
11 minutes later, Messi began and ended a goal that killed Arsenal off. Pedro’s neat slip-through fell to Messi who rounded Gael Clichy on the outside before clipping the ball over the advancing Spanish goalkeeper. Barca were now in full flow. 2-1, and 4-3 on aggregate.
Five minutes later, and Messi’s fourth hat-trick for the calendar year was complete. As Arsenal inexplicably attempted to play offside in a scene reminiscent of first-time synchronised divers chancing their arm in the Olympic Games, Seydou Keita’s header from the halfway sent the little Argentine clear.
The lobbed finish was sumptuous. Even Almunia asked after the match, “How do you stop this kind of player?”
You don’t, Manuel.
Even when Almunia got stopped Messi’s effort in the second half, he could not thwart the follow-up being hammered in for Barcelona and Messi’s fourth on the night.
After the match, Arsene Wenger said of Messi, “Once he’s on the run, Messi is unstoppable.”
It was such a memorable performance by the now six-time Ballon D’or winner, that it was the first time he had managed four goals in a match in his career, becoming only the sixth player to do so in Champions League history.
His four finishes were also enough to make him Barcelona’s leading scorer in the competition, surpassing Rivaldo. All of this, of course, at the age of just 22.