Arsenal suffered late heartbreak at the Camp Nou as Luis Suárez struck at the death to complete what seemed an unlikely comeback for Barcelona.
A terrific Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goal had looked enough to hand the Gunners what would have been a deserved win in Spain. Barcelona had more of the ball but were left frustrated by Arsenal’s disciplined approach but a mix-up between Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bernd Leno gifted the hosts an equaliser.
A draw was the least that the Gunners deserved but with the clock ticking down, Sergi Roberto picked out Suárez and the Uruguayan found enough space to poke the ball past Leno to deal a cruel blow to the visitors.
Mesut Özil returned to action for the first time since he was involved in a car-jacking attempt while Sead Kolašinac was named on the bench. Youngsters Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson also lined up but there was no debut for record signing Nicolas Pépé. Alexandre Lacazette also missed out as he continues to try and shake off the ankle injury he picked up in the Emirates Cup.
Barcelona started the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé and with Arsenal’s much-publicised defensive issues there were fears they could have run riot. However, the Gunners backline produced an accomplished and resolute defensive performance to limit the Blaugrana to half chances.
The first 20 minutes saw the hosts pass the ball around without showing any real threat although they did offer a warning when Nélson Semedo was set free down the right wing to set up Dembélé on the edge of the box. Willock was alert to the danger and got across to block.
After containing the Spanish champions with relative ease for half an hour, the Gunners started to edge themselves forward and had their first sight of goal when Aubameyang just failed to connect to a perfectly flighted cross from right-back Maitland-Niles.
The Gabonese was an isolated figure leading the line without much service but that changed on 37 minutes when Özil delivered a superb pass to his feet, which allowed him to turn Jordi Alba and thump an effort past Neto – the goalkeeper who conceded a hat-trick to Aubameyang in the Europa League last season.
That sparked a positive spell for the Gunners but Henrikh Mkhitaryan endured a torrid night where everything he touched went sour and they failed to add to their lead.
Griezmann thought he had claimed the leveller for his new side shortly before the break when he knocked in a pass from Ivan Rakitić, but the Frenchman had strayed offside.
The hosts made a number of changes at the break but Emery, who would have been quietly pleased with his side’s first-half performance, opted for just two bringing on Kolašinac and Mattéo Guendouzi.
Barcelona’s substutions seemed to have the desired impact as they started to swamp the Arsenal box and only a brilliant Willock goalline clearance kept the Gunners ahead. There was clear instruction from Emery to play it out from the back and at times the Arsenal defenders played themselves into trouble but with the equaliser still eluding Barca, Suárez was introduced on the hour mark.
The pressure continued to mount and Barcelona finally levelled the score but they were grateful to a gift from Maitland-Niles. Another attack had seemingly broken down when the Englishman passed the ball back to Leno but the German ‘keeper had come to collect the ball and the full back’s pass rolled past him and into the net.
Emery’s response was quick with Dani Ceballos, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka thrown into the action. The youngsters added a bit more purpose to the Gunners attack with Saka twice setting up good chances. The first just evaded the boot of Aubameyang while the second saw Martinelli volley wide.
Eddie Nketiah, Lucas Torreira and Shkodran Mustafi came on for five-minute cameos but Suárez had the last word, slotting the ball home in the final minutes.