"Even when beautiful Barcelona lose, they win" - Oliver Holt's big match verdict

Even when Barcelona lose, they win.

Even on a night when they were undone by a brilliant Arsenal side who hit them late, the giants of Catalonia still warmed the soul.

The thrill is in seeing them play, in seeing the best in the world on the biggest stage, in seeing them play football like no one else can play it.

Forget the result, it was the kind of night when the first thing you do is scan the team sheet and make sure all the names are there.

Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, David Villa, Pedro, Dani Alves: check them off and breathe a sigh of relief.

Because what would Rio de Janeiro be without Ipanema Beach and the Sugar Loaf?

What would Sydney Harbour be without the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge?

These are some of this world's great wonders and those who love sport place this Barcelona side among them.

It was the kind of night when the result didn't matter. Not really. Okay, so Barcelona lost but their reputation did not suffer in defeat. Before they grew fragile, they were mesmerising.

It was enough to sit back, take it all in and watch Barcelona turning football into something so beautiful you could hang it in the Louvre.

Arsenal were superb, too. This was far more than a late smash and grab. If Barcelona were not quite as majestic as they were in the first half of their famous visit here last year, that was largely because Arsenal were a lot better than they were 11 months ago.

Arsene Wenger's side - and particularly Jack Wilshere - played some spellbinding football of their own. Wilshere, 19, looked so comfortable in this company, it was scary.

Everyone seems to assume that when Barcelona mount their raid on the Premier League in the summer, they will come for Fabregas but after the way Wilshere played last night, there may be a locker in the Nou Camp changing room with his name on it.

It was still Barcelona who caught the eye, though, still Barcelona who took the breath away, still Barcelona who made you feel like you were watching Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in their prime, like you were getting a precious glimpse of greatness.

Sometimes, it was the smallest things: the way that Messi rolled a free kick short to Iniesta in the first couple of minutes even though Iniesta was surrounded by three Arsenal players.

Messi trusted him with the ball even in that situation. He knew Iniesta would not lose it. He knew this was a player who would go on to complete 95% of his passes in the first half.

Iniesta, his pale face gleaming in the floodlights' glare, did not let Messi down. His quick feet danced around the ball, took it away from his markers and played it out into open space.

Messi should have put Barcelona ahead after quarter of an hour. He raced on to a Villa pass and mesmerised Szczesny with one feint and then another until the Arsenal goalkeeper was hopelessly committed.

Messi could have waltzed round him and slid the ball into an empty net but he chipped the ball over him instead. To general amazement, it bounced slowly wide but Messi made up for it with a sublime through ball to set up Villa's opening goal.

Arsenal did not crumble, though. They soaked up the punishment and kept fighting. Walcott was excellent, too, Fabregas did not look out of place and Van Persie wasted two glorious chances before he finally grabbed the equaliser.

But when they are on the same pitch as Barcelona, players are judged by higher standards. Every misplaced pass felt like a crime, every mistimed run seemed like a sin, every missed chance felt like a frippery that would be punished.

The most beguiling phase of an enthralling match between these two fine sides came after half an hour. It was a spell of five minutes when only men in Barcelona shirts touched the ball.

Never has the beauty of simplicity in football been more evident than it is in the way it is practised by this Barcelona side. They are men of great individual brilliance but they gain great joy from short passes and keeping possession.

In this period of play, they made Arsenal chase shadows, playing the ball up and down the pitch, working it from side to side, never hurried, never wasteful.

Eventually, Messi strayed offside and the spell was broken but those few minutes alone provided a beautiful antidote to the ugliness that Rino Gattuso and Mathieu Flamini had unleashed at the San Siro the night before.

When the final whistle went, it felt like everyone was a winner.

Arsenal were magnificent and their victory marks another big psychological leap forward for a side that is improving all the time.

Barcelona played like gods for most of the match and still hold the advantage in the tie.

The rest of us, well, we got to gaze at one of the wonders of the sporting world.

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