Arsenal fought back to secure some hope in the Champions League on Wednesday night in thrilling fashion.
But with 59 minutes gone today, the Gunners might have just kissed goodbye to their challenge in this quarter-final tie.
Barcelona dominated proceedings without reward but Ibrahimovic let Almunia – who had kept his side in the match – pay for woeful decision-making in goal as the Swedish striker chipped home Barca’s opener seconds after the restart.
The Emirates Stadium went silent. Amongst their misery, injuries had forced Arshavin and Gallas to be withdrawn. So on the evidence of how the night had gone thus far, they could have panicked worse to come.
Worse did come, and moments later, another defensive blunder from the hosts saw Ibrahimovic through and free on goal. The giant Swede had time and space but went for the spectacular again – thumping the ball into Almunia’s near post.
Showdowns like this have ended in shameful maulings for Arsenal this season, so it was easy to fear that while this tie might have been put to bed already, Barcelona were still not done with Arsenal.
Ironically though, it was Wenger’s side who would have the last laugh.
On came Theo Walcott with 21 minutes to go and just three minutes after his introduction, Arsenal’s no. 14 raced onto a Bendtner pass, entered the visitor’s territory and sent home a quick-fire shot through Valdes’ arms.
Walcott’s impact was reminiscent of Arsenal’s former no. 14 who finally made a welcomed return against the Gunners late on.
Consolation or turning point?
The answer could just prove to be the latter as with five minutes left, Arsenal were on level terms.
Wenger’s men had a goal-mouth chance as Bendtner sent in a headed pass for Fabregas to finish off. The Spaniard pulled his trigger but was hindered by Puyol and the referee graciously pointed to the spot.
Barcelona, who already had Pique suspended for the second leg due to a booking earlier on, saw Puyol sent off and before the Catalnas pondered their lessened defensive options for next week, Fabregas whipped home the Gunners’ equalizer from the spot.
Arsenal’s skipper harmed his fitness even further in that event but he was set to miss next Tuesday’s meeting anyway after being cautioned during the first half.
What was not harmed though, was Arsenal’s slender Champions League hopes.