But the Gunners are a stronger unit than when the two teams met last season and strikes from Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin enable boss Arsene Wenger to take a narrow one goal advantage into the second leg of the Champions League last 16 at the Nou Camp.
Barca paid the price for easing up just when they thought the result was going their way, but credit Arsenal for a fine performance which was an improvement on last season’s meeting.
Messi then had a goal chalked off for a marginal offside decision but Arsenal refused to be ‘passed’ into submission by their Catalan visitors and got their reward on 78 minutes when van Persie levelled from a tight angle.
If the Emirates had erupted with that goal it went wild five minutes later when Arsenal broke quickly and Arshavin curled in a delightful winner.
This was the perfect way for the Gunners to celebrate their 200th game in Europe as they showed they can now compete on level terms with arguably the best club side in the world.
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)
Venue: Emirates Stadium
08 Nasri (yellow card)
14 Walcott (Bendtner 77)
17 A Song (yellow card) (Arshavin 68)
10 Van Persie
21 Adriano Correia,