Arsenal cast aside by magical Messi

Four goals from Barcelona striker leaves humbled Wenger hailing 'best player in the world'
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The Independent Online

Lionel Messi produced one of the truly great individual performances here last night, scoring all four goals in Barcelona's dazzling 4-1 victory over Arsenal in the Champions League quarter-final second leg.

Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, described Messi as "making the impossible possible" after seeing the 22-year-old tear his side apart. Barcelona won the tie 6-3 on aggregate after an exhibition of glorious football and will meet Internazionale – and Jose Mourinho – in the semi-finals.

Messi, the current World Player of the Year, was saluted by the lucky 93,330 souls inside Nou Camp after he scored a wonderful hat-trick in 21 first-half minutes, and then finished off Arsenal with a sublime solo goal late in the game. Messi's wonder show, including his fourth hat-trick of 2010, came after Nicklas Bendtner had given Arsenal a shock early lead after 18 minutes.

Afterwards Wenger paid a glowing tribute to his tormentor-in-chief, saying: "For me, Messi is the best player in the world, and by a distance. He made the impossible possible. When he's in the game, he's really dangerous. He can make a difference at any moment in the game. He can take advantage of every mistake we made.

"He's very young, but he can achieve a lot. For example the fourth goal he scored, I don't know many players in the world who can score that. He's not always in the game, but when he gets on the ball he's unstoppable. When he changes direction at such pace no-one can stay with him. He has something exceptional. He has six or seven years in front of him, touch wood that nothing happens to him, and he can reach unbelievable levels."

Pep Guardiola, the Barcelona manager, added: "He's a very special player and I want him to continue at that level. These kind of things you cannot explain. There are no words. What can I say? You see it better, this kind of performance. We just have to enjoy having a player like him in our ranks. We don't demand Leo makes performances like this. We don't demand him to score four goals to get us through. We just ask him to enjoy it when he has the ball. The rest sometimes happens, sometimes it doesn't."

Wenger criticised his team for making life too easy for the reigning European champions. "Over the two games, for a team like Arsenal, we conceded cheap goals," he said. "They didn't have to work hard enough. When you have players like Messi, any mistake you can pay for it. Congratulations to Barcelona – they were better than us."

Barcelona face Real Madrid on Saturday while Arsenal contest the north London derby at Tottenham Hotspur next Wednesday. Wenger admitted it will be hard to lift his team, saying: "When you go out of the Champions League, the next day you are in front of a very empty future. It's a big disappointment, but we must recover quickly because we cannot drop any points."

Asked if the result signified a shift in the balance of power in Europe away from English teams, Wenger said: "That's a good question that United have to answer tomorrow. Certainly, you have more teams in Europe now who can compete with England. That is for sure."

Semi-final draw: Key details

Internazionale v Barcelona, Tuesday 20 & Wednesday 28 April

Bayern Munich/Manchester United v Lyons/Bordeaux, Wednesday 21 & Tuesday 27 April

Final: Saturday 22 May (Bernabeu)

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