LONDON: Arsenal withstood an onslaught from Barcelona to salvage a 2-2 draw and keep alive hopes of beating the defending champion to a spot in the Champions League semi-finals, while Inter Milan has the edge over CSKA Moscow after a 1-0 win on Wednesday.
Barcelona comprehensively outplayed Arsenal for the first hour at Emirates Stadium and led through two goals by Zlatan Ibrahimovic before substitute Theo Walcott got a goal back in the 66th and Cesc Fabregas equalised in the 85th with a penalty. Fabregas picked up a yellow card for fouling Sergio Busquets and is suspended for next week’s second-leg match at Camp Nou, but so is Barcelona captain Carles Puyol. The central defender will sit out the match for the red card he earned for conceding the penalty with a foul on Fabregas.
Even so, Barcelona, who beat Arsenal 2-1 to win the 2006 final, is still favourite to advance after scoring two crucial away goals. While Barcelona can advance with as little as a 0-0 or 1-1 draw next Tuesday, Inter’s advantage is arguably less pronounced despite Diego Milito’s 65th-minute goal. Inter must protect their lead, or score in a single-goal defeat, on CSKA’s potentially troublesome artificial turf.
Barcelona could have been out of sight of Arsenal early on and would have won by a huge margin but for wayward shooting by Ibrahimovic and stellar goalkeeping by Manuel Almunia. Barcelona had 11 efforts at goal before Arsenal mustered a first in the 23rd minute, with Almunia saving from world player of the year Lionel Messi, Ibrahimovic and Busquets.
Ibrahimovic could have scored a hat trick before he collected a long pass out of defense and lifted the ball over Almunia to just inside the far post with one touch. The striker made it 2-0 from another long pass, beating offside and taking a touch before smashing an unstoppable shot past goalkeeper Almunia and into the top corner.
That looked to have clinched victory, especially with Andrey Arshavin and William Gallas substituted because of injury, but Walcott surged into the right of the area and hit a shot under the diving Valdes and in at the far post. Barcelona introduced former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry as a 77th-minute substitute for Ibrahimovic, drawing a rapturous reaction from the fans who cheered him during his eight successful years in north London, but it was the home side that scored next.
Fabregas was preparing to shoot from a cushioned header by Nicklas Bendnter when his legs got tangled with those of Puyol, who was trying to challenge him from behind. The referee ruled that it was a foul and sent off Puyol. Fabregas got to his feet and hit the kick down the middle of the goal as Victor Valdes dived to his left.
In Milan, CSKA Moscow goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev kept his side in the match with crucial saves while his counterpart Julio Cesar had little to do other than deny striker Tomas Necid late on. Milito got the crucial goal when he controlled Wesley Sneijder’s pass on the edge of the area, turned quickly, and shot into the corner. Bayern Munich beat Manchester United 2-1 and Lyon beat Bordeaux 3-1 in another quarter-finals on Tuesday.