ARSENAL were knocked out of the Champions League by a Barcelona side inspired by a four-goal performance from Lionel Messi.

The Gunners' hopes of a semi-final place in the competition were briefly raised when, against the run of play, Nicklas Bendtner tapped in to put the visitors ahead 3-2 on aggregate. The Danish striker profited from a strong run in behind the back four by Theo Walcott, and while his initial shot was saved by Victor Valdes, he followed up to prod home.

The lead was not to last long, as Messi thundered in an equaliser from the edge of the box just three minutes later. His first foray into the area was blocked by Mikael Silvestre, but the Frenchman could only stab the ball back into the Argentine's path and he rifled a shot into the top corner.

Clearly irked by conceding a goal, Barca quickly claimed the lead in the tie, Messi once again the scorer. He played the ball out wide to Seydou Keita, whose poor cross was cut out, only for Pedro Rodriguez to steal in and lay on the advancing Messi, who took one touch before steering the ball past Manuel Almunia.

Barcelona were rampant and a third was waiting just around the corner. This time Thomas Vermaelen was caught out of position and Keita quickly nodded the ball ahead of Messi, who scampered through on goal before clipping an outrageous chip over Almunia for his third hat-trick of the year.

The hosts shut up shop in the second half, absorbing the little pressure Arsenal were able to exert, until Messi decided enough was enough and put the game out of reach.

The diminutive number ten weaved his way past three challenges and shot against Almunia, but the ball fell back to his feet and he made no mistake with his second attempt, smashing through the keeper's legs.