Barcelona brilliance overwhelms Arsenal

CHAMPIONS' LEAGUE Goals from Bergkamp and Overmars make little impact as Rivaldo and Luis Enrique lead the Spanish champions in a virtuoso performance at Wembley
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The Independent Online

After Lens and Panathinaikos last season and AIK Solna last month, this was welcome to the Primera Liga of European football for more than 70,000 Arsenal followers. Disappointed as they must have been by last night's result, and concerned about their team's prospects of qualifying for the second stage of the Champions' League, there was admiration for a magnificent display by Barcelona.

After Lens and Panathinaikos last season and AIK Solna last month, this was welcome to the Primera Liga of European football for more than 70,000 Arsenal followers. Disappointed as they must have been by last night's result, and concerned about their team's prospects of qualifying for the second stage of the Champions' League, there was admiration for a magnificent display by Barcelona.

Keeping three gifted forwards up, they repeatedly stretched Arsenal's famous four at the back, breaking through to score twice in a minute before a quarter of an hour had been played. A rare Dennis Bergkamp goal just before half-time kept Arsenal hoping, only for his compatriot Philip Cocu and then Luis Figo to leave those hopes resting on the next game, at home to Fiorentina, who are now level on points.

As expected, Ray Parlour moved inside to take on the daunting role of helping to subdue Josep Guardiola while simultaneously launching Arsenal forward. All of which looked slightly academic after 15 minutes with the huge electric scoreboards at each end reading Arsenal 0 Barcelona 2.

Even before the double blow, the visitors had twice penetrated the London side's defence. Luis Enrique, sent clear by Patrick Kluivert, stumbled as Tony Adams considered making a desperate challenge; then Kluivert was offside by a hair's-breadth following David Seaman's miscued clearance.

Next time Arsenal were not so fortunate. Luis Enrique's pass bisected the back four again, Adams decided he had to make a tackle and Cocu went down under it. To Adams' fury, the Swiss referee awarded a penalty, Rivaldo's kick low into the corner defying Seaman's correct guess and plunge to his left.

Martin Keown had taken a knock in the move leading to the penalty, and, critically, was off the pitch having treatment as Barcelona gained possession again almost from the restart. Unforgivably, there was no cover for him and unluckily Adams slipped in moving out to meet the advancing Luis Enrique. Seaman could again do nothing to prevent the ball nestling in his net.

Before half-time Figo's fierce drive would be touched on to a post by Seaman. But with Adams desperate to atone for a perceived injustice, and the crowd still backing them, the Barcelona defence came under pressure as well.

Francesc Arnau, replacing Ruud Hesp, who had taken the rap for the collapse against Numañcia on Saturday - Barca conceding three goals in the last 10 minutes - made an astonishing save to deny Adams after parrying a shot by Marc Overmars, then watched in some alarm as Patrick Vieira, twice, and Parlour shot wide.

Adams could get no power into a header from Bergkamp's free-kick, but in the final minute of the half reward came to give the home support and the team new heart. Kanu whipped in a cross despite the attentions of two defenders and Bergkamp turned superbly before scoring.

After the interval the roars died in Arsenal throats again within 10 minutes when the two-goal margin was restored. Guardiola's long pass fell for Kluivert and Lee Dixon, sliding in to dispossess him, inadvertently knocked the ball square, wide of Adams and just in the right - or wrong - place for Figo to drive past Seaman.

Before the cavalry could arrive - Davor Suker and Thierry Henry replacing Kanu and Ljungberg - the redoubt had been stormed again. Another Guardiola pass found Cocu, not picked up on his run from midfield, and he ran on to score.

Suker's back-heel to set up Marc Overmars was too late to be of significance, unless goal difference is required to separate Arsenal and Fiorentina.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Keown (Upson, 73), Adams, Winterburn; Ljungberg (Suker, 75), Parlour, Vieira, Overmars; Bergkamp, Kanu Henry, 75). Substitutes not used: Manninger (gk), Vivas, Silvinho, Luzhny.

Barcelona (4-3-3): Arnau; Reiziger, Abelardo, Bogarde, Sergi; Cocu (Zenden, 90), Guardiola (Dehu, 89), Luis Enrique (Gabri, 73); Figo, Kluivert, Rivaldo. Substitutes not used: Hesp (gk), Litmanen, Dani, Puyol.

Referee: U Meier (Switzerland).

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