Last Updated: 16/02/11 9:41pm
It's all over and Arsenal have held on for a famous 2-1 victory over Barcelona in the first leg of this Champions League last 16 encounter at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners trailed 1-0 with just over 10 minutes to play but goals from van Persie and Arshavin have given them a valuable advantage heading into the second leg at the Nou Camp. There's still plenty of work to do but there's no doubt Arsene Wenger's side proved tonight that they have indeed bridged the gulf in class which separated the sides last season.
Alves tries to take advantage of a poor defensive header by Arshavin but Szczesny forces him out wide and the chance is lost.
Bendtner out muscles Maxwell on the left before firing in a shot which Valdes pushes wide for a corner.
GOAL ARSHAVIN - Fantastic goal! The Arsenal fans are going crazy! Nasri charges into the area from the right and instead of shooting, he calmly rolls the ball square for Arshavin who curls a lovely effort into the corner of the net.
Arsenal come forward again but Fabregas' pass on the edge of the box is poor and Barcelona can clear.
The Gunners will strive for a winning goal here as they know that taking a lead to the Nou Camp will be crucial to their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals.
Arsenal deserved that while Barcelona have paid the price for taking their foot off the gas. Maybe my prediction of 2-1 to Arsenal will come true after all!
GOAL VAN PERSIE - The Emirates Stadium erupts as van Persie drills home a volley from a ridiculously tight angle on the left, beating Valdes at his near post.
Arsenal haven't got long to find an equaliser so must surely throw a little more caution to the wind. They can't travel to the Nou Camp with a deficit.
If Arsenal lose this match you could still argue they've produced a much better display than they did in the first leg of their quarter-final clash last season, even though that was a draw.
Arsenal also make their first substitution of the match, with Andrey Arshavin coming on to replace Song.
Second after having a shot blocked from the edge of the box, Messi is played through down the left side of the area but puts his shot into the side netting from a tight angle.
Villa dribbles down the left side of the box before taking the ball out of play. However, the referee makes a mistake by awarding a corner. Could this be costly?
Van Persie exchanges passes with Fabregas before curling a short from the edge of the box which forces Valdes into a diving save to his right.
Rather than curl a delivery into the box, as you might expect in a Premier LEague game, Xavi opts to play it short.
Moments later Nasri sends a low cross in from the left and a sliding van Persie only just gets there to puts it wide.
Pique is shown the yellow card after bringing down Fabregas just outside the left corner of the area. The Barcelona defender will now miss the next match.
The ball comes into the box and eventually falls for van Persie but the Dutchman doesn't pull the trigger quick enough and the chance is lost.
Van Persie blasts one from the edge of the box following good work from Walcott on the left but Valdes watches the ball go high over the bar.
Busquets tries to twist and turn his way past Fabregas on the right wing but the Gunners captain makes the tackle.
Eboue launches a long ball forward for van Persie but it fails to catch the Barcelona defenders out.
Eboue races away down the right wing but he's unable to control the ball and Barcelona are back in possession.
Maxwell receives the ball on the left before floating a cross to Xavi on the edge of the box. The Spaniard volleys it but Szczesny watches it go wide.
Iniesta directs a pass towards Pedro but Clichy slides in with an important interception on the edge of the box.
Van Persie tries to turn Gerard Pique inside the box but there's little point because the offside flag is raised.
Last email before the second half goes to Liam Ferguson, who says: "An amazing first half of football so far, lots of good possession football and amazing passing, and a good goal from Villa. Arsenal need to contain Villa and Messi and get Walcott running at their defence and Van Persie needs to get into gear as well. I do not think Arsenal are out of this game and I still think they will win."
Max Wilson writes: "A nervy first half at the Emirates. It's sad when your team is behind, but credit to Arsenal, they've held on pretty well. Overall, I've never been too worried about Arsenal's frontline (despite that we've missed several chances, we can still make up for it in the 2nd half), the backline is the thing that I'm always most afraid of. Over the course of the entire season so far, Arsenal has been a different beast without the presence of Vermaelan in central defence. That is to say, weak. Koscielny is doing a decent job and I'm partially thankful Squillaci isn't playing. I hope to see van Persie and Nasri on the scoreboard come the second half, though realistically speaking, judging from the first half, i still think Barca would likely nab this matchup. We might lose, but as always, I hope Arsenal at least put on a good show for us all. There's not much shame in losing to a great side like barcelona, but Arsenal has come a long way from our last encounter, and I hope they can at least show for it."
Marta Narbona says: "I just can't see Arsenal getting back into this match. Barca are just too good at tacky tacca and have the better world class players. I hope Arsenal can string a few passes together but there defence has holes like a sieve."
John Strick says: "Arsenal might as well be Cowdenbeath for all the danger they're posing. They can't think of any way through! Barcelona are a class apart. It's a joy to watch. Best the Gooners can hope for is to not lose by more than three goals." I'll have you know that Cowdenbeath are actually my favourite Scottish team so don't be so cruel!
Arsenal are now 12/1 with Sky Bet to claim victory tonight while Barcelona are understandably the hot favourites at 2/9, with the draw priced at 4/1. My pre-match prediction of 2-1 to Arsenal is now 16/1 but it's hard to see Barcelona not scoring again tonight. Messi is 4/1 to score the next goal, with Villa next in the running at 6/1. For Arsenal, van Persie is 15/2 while Walcott is 12/1. Head now to www.skybet.com to place your in-running bets.
John Golden emails in to say: "Again we pay the price for not signing central defenders worth their name - everything good Arsenal do in other areas of the field is undone by the Sunday league players in the heart of the defence. Once ironically the historical rock of any Arsenal side. Another Champions League campaign over." Come on John, it's only half time in the first leg! Arsenal have had a few chances to score themselves so don't rule out a comeback.
The half-time whistle sounds and Barcelona head into the break with a 1-0 lead over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal are in need of the half-time whistle as their relentless opponents continue to wear them out.
Emmanuel Eboue pass into the area from the right finds Walcott, who sees his shot deflected by Maxwell.
Barcelona certainly smell Arsenal blood at the moment with the Gunners looking rather vulnerable at the back.
Johan Djourou needlessly gives the ball away in his own half but Laurent Koscielny is alert enough to salvage the situation.
Pedro just has Szczesny to beat inside the area and although his shot is saved, Messi is there to head the rebound into the net. But wait, the offside flag is raised once again - it won't count.
Pedro darts into the area to chase another chipped pass but the offside flag is up. Even so, Barcelona are so dangerous every time they come forward - always looking to cut open Arsenal's defence with a variety of passes.
Sergio Busquets looks to find Pedro down the right with a lofted pass but Gael Clichy is there to cut it out.
The home fans have found their voices again as they try to roar the Gunners forward. They've had a couple of decent chances in this match so nobody should write them off yet.
Song, who is on a yellow card, better watch himself now after committing another foul to bring down Messi. He must keep his cool.
Jack Wilshere finds van Persie on the left side of the area but the Dutch striker's shot goes wide of the near post. He should have done better.
Barcelona come forward looking for a second goal but Pedro's shot from close range is saved by Szczesny.
GOAL VILLA - Messi threads a lovely pass through the Arsenal defence for Villa to latch onto and the Spaniard makes no mistake with a cool finish inside the box.
Arsenal break quickly on the counter with Walcott, who sprints through the centre of midfield before passing to Fabregas down the right side of the box. The Spaniard then lifted the ball over Valdes towards van Persie but Eric Abidal is there to head clear.
It's one-way traffic at the moment but Pedro's low cross on the right wing fails to find a team-mate.
Barcelona work the ball forward once more and a dinked shot from Messi is comfortably caught by Szczesny.
Villa bursts down the right wing before his deflected cross is partially cleared. The Barca striker has another bite at the cherry moments later but his audacious effort on the right doesn't trouble Szczesny.
Walcott tracks back to prevent Maxwell charging down the left wing and then manages to win a throw. Good work there from the committed Gunners winger.
Messi floats a delightful pass into the area for Villa but much to Arsenal's relief the offside flag is correctly raised.
Villa is now put through but the pass is just a little hard for him, allowing Szczesny to gather safely.
To Arsenal's credit they are digging in well at the back but they are struggling to string more than a handful of passes together.
Arsenal's early spell of pressure didn't last long at all. Barcelona are really in the ascendency at the moment.
David Villa splits the Arsenal defence open with a fabulous pass for Messi, who races into the box before seeing his chipped shot over Wojciech Szczesny bounce inches wide of the post.
Barcelona are easing into this game now and trying to get a stranglehold on possession - exactly what they do best.
The game has just slowed a litte after that frantic opening but Arsenal simply must maintain their attacking energy.
Arsene Wenger's men are clearly attempting to fight fire with fire and to be honest that's their only real option tonight.
Arsenal look so confident on the ball and are really taking the game to Barcelona in the early stages of this pulsating clash.
Barcelona charge forward on the counter attack with Lionel Messi only for Alex Song to bring him down. The Arsenal man is subsequently booked.
Moments later a clever flick from Cesc Fabregas into the area finds van Persie but his fierce shot is well saved by Valdes.
Theo Walcott threads a pass into the area for Robin van Persie but the striker is unable to get a shot in.
The Arsenal fans are roaring their side on and right now the hosts look extremely settled on the ball. No sign of stage fright.
Samir Nasri swings the ball into the box but it evades everybody before ending up in the arms of Victor Valdes.
The visitors make a bright start down the right wing with Pedro but his cross is blocked and Arsenal can clear.
Barcelona get this clash under way at the Emirates Stadium but can Arsenal cause a shock in front of their own supporters?
Final email before kick-off comes from Arsenal fan Jim Dunker in cloudy, overcast San Diego. He says: "I'm excitedly nervous about this game. I am tired of the "time to prove" perspective on every game for Arsenal and would like the team to finally stamp their intent on Barca. I'm also pragmatically aware of Barca's total quality and just sticking with optimism." That's it for now but don't forget you can send more emails at half-time!
The Arsenal fans are all waving flags as the players make their way onto the pitch at the Emirates Stadium. It's a cracking atmosphere and hopefully the players will rise to the occasion.
Farha Arbab here from New Dehli says: "Trust me, I can feel and smell the excitement here in New Dehli all the way from Emirates in London. Very very interesting match and was looking forward for this fixture for a long time. Barcelona to win 0-4 or 1-3, tough tough match for Arsenal. The question is who is going to stop Messi and how will Arsenal break Bracelona's defence. Gerard Pique will miss Carlos Puyol at the back, as they both are best buddies at defence, pure example is World Cup 2010 South Africa."
Arf Anwar from Leeds writes: "It's Barcelona v Barcelona-lite, sorcerer v apprentice, xavi v cesc. We will find out if Gunners and Cesc have grown up - can't wait for this one."
Dan says: "I don't think Arsenal stand much of a chance of winning against the Catalan giants, considering there's only been a few changes since the last clash! I'm predicting a 3-0 win for Barcelona unless Arsenal can pull off a miracle, Lionel Messi and David Villa. Arsenal couldn't even handle Messi last time, I wonder what the pair of them will cause!"
Apologies if I don't publish your emails tonight - there are just so many to pick from! Waleed Matin from New York says: "Arsenal are a different team than last season. Expect the pace of Walcott to cause Barcelona the problems their domestic rivals cannot. 3-1 to the Arsenal with RvP and Nasri doing the damage. Messi to get an away goal."
Dave McMillan says: "Arsenal should not play scared tonight, if they emulate Spurs then they will have a chance. If they try and sit back then Barcelona will dominate with possession. Arsenal have to win tonight and they can only do that with goals, I hope they take their chances and do not try to walk the ball in."
Cian Hughes fully expects Barca to end up on top. He says: "I can't wait for this! I wanted David Villla and Lionel Messi to start! I'm going for 4-0 Barcelona with Messi (2) and Villa (2) scoring the goals."
Kamen writes: "I see Arsenal winning this one 4-2 then losing 2-1 at the Nou Camp. Arsenal want revenge after the last meeting and with no major injury woes this time around i reckon we can win this one. Van Persie to score first and Nasri to bag one."
No end of emails to get through as we approach kick-off. Vik Dowlul agrees with my prediction, saying: "The score tonight will be 2-1 Arsenal. Barcelona's last six games away from home have won only one. Under Pep they have not won away from home in the knockout stages. Gunners off a clean sheet and Barca off a disappointing draw away. RVP in sensational form. Lump on!"
Considering Barcelona are the favourites to win the Champions League, it's no surprise to see them priced up at 10/11 with Sky Bet to win this first leg at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal are 11/4 to spring a surprise and take a lead into the return match at the Nou Camp while the draw is 11/4. A repeat of last year's quarter-final first-leg scoreline - 2-2 - is 14/1 while Lionel Messi is 7/2 favourite to score the first goal, with David Villa next in the running at 5/1. For Arsenal, Robin van Persie is 13/2 but I'm personally quite tempted by the 11/1 on offer for Theo Walcott. The winger made a big impact in the first leg against Barcelona last year, scoring within two minutes of coming on as a second-half substitute, and he'll be a key player for the Gunners tonight. In terms of a correct score tip, I'm going to back a 2-1 win for Arsenal at 28/1! No, I'm not mad - Barcelona have only won one of their last six away games in the Champions League while Arsenal simply have to win tonight if they're to stand a chance of going through. Head now to www.skybet.com to place your pre-match and in-running bets.
Horace Horlicks disagrees with those expecting goals galore tonight, saying: "I am going to fly in the face of adversity and predict a very low scoring draw with both Messi and Van Persie failing to pierce the respective onion bags of Barca and Arsenal. In the words of the famous Irish philosopher Phil O'Sopher "When one door closes, another one shuts." In the case of this monumental match I think both the red and white and stripey doors will be slightly ajar at the beginning of proceedings but will close gradually throughout the ninety minutes of midfield chess." Horace also goes on to predict an aggregate 4-1 win for Arsenal would you believe!
Daniel Jermy writes: "Huge task for Arsenal tonight. Tonight could finally prove that this young Arsenal squad is good enough to take on Europe's elite. However if the defence let's Messi, Villa and Pedro get a hold on the game then it could be a very long night for them. Arsenal would certainly take a draw from this game." I don't think they would take a draw - they simply must win tonight to stand a realistic chance of going through.
As you can see from the teams below, Arsenal playmaker Samir Nasri will start tonight. Nasri, the Gunners' top scorer with 14 goals, makes his first appearance since January 30 after recovering from a hamstring injury. Robin van Persie starts up front, supported by Nasri and Theo Walcott, while the suspended Bacary Sagna is replaced by Emmanuel Eboue and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny makes his Champions League debut. Barcelona, viewed by Arsene Wenger as the best team in the world, include Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa in their side. The referee is Nicola Rizzoli from Italy.
The Arsenal team is: Szczesny, Eboue, Koscielny, Djourou, Clichy, Song, Wilshere, Walcott, Fabregas, Nasri, van Persie. Subs: Almunia, Rosicky, Denilson, Squillaci, Arshavin, Gibbs, Bendtner.
The Barcelona team is: Valdes, Dani Alves, Pique, Abidal, Maxwell, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Villa. Subs: Pinto, Bojan, Mascherano, Keita, Milito, Afellay, Adriano Correia.
Welcome to live text commentary for tonight's eagerly-anticipated first leg of the Champions League last 16 clash between Arsenal and Barcelona at the Emirates Stadium. If it's anything like the quarter-final meeting between the same sides last year then we're surely in for a thrilling night although Arsene Wenger says his Gunners side are determined to prove they've bridged the gulf in class since they were beaten 6-3 on aggregate by the Catalan giants. If you want to have your say before kick-off, then get your emails to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll publish as many as possible. Kick-off is at 1945 GMT.