Arsene Wenger hails Lionel Messi as world's best player
Messi (left) took the match ball after scoring four goals for the first time
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger acclaimed Lionel Messi as the world's best player after his four-goal haul ended the Gunners' Champions League hopes.
A Messi-inspired Barcelona won 4-1 at the Nou Camp to complete a 6-3 success on aggregate in the quarter-final tie.
"I believe we lost against a team that is better than us and that has the best player in the world," said Wenger.
"Once he's on the run, Messi is unstoppable. He's the only player who can change direction at such a pace."
Messi came into the game having already hit three hat-tricks in 2010, but he went one better against Arsenal, scoring four goals in a match for the first time in his career to set up an intriguing meeting with Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan.
Argentina's World Cup qualifying highlights
Barca manager Pep Guardiola described the Argentine's performance as "awesome", while Gunners keeper Manuel Almunia was equally effusive.
"We were beaten by a brilliant player and a brilliant team in general," said the Spaniard.
"You have to try to anticipate what he's going to do, but it's so difficult because he can do what he wants.
"It's difficult to stop these kind of players. He couldn't score in the first leg, but he was great tonight."
While Barcelona's all-round display in the first leg at the Emirates earned them plenty of plaudits, Messi had been relatively quiet.
Not so at the Nou Camp, where he terrorised the Arsenal defence, doubling his Champions League goals tally as his side came from a goal down to run out emphatic winners.
"Messi is a phenomenal player in a great team," said Nicklas Bendtner, who had given Arsenal a shock lead on the night.
"I would rather get beaten by a better team, to be able to say we did what we could, rather than be robbed in the last minute."
However, Wenger felt his side had contributed to their own downfall against the defending champions.
"Over two games, we conceded cheap goals," said the Frenchman. "They didn't have to work hard enough. When you have players like Messi (against you), you can pay for any mistake."
Messi sought to play down his personal contribution to the demolition of Arsenal.
"What I did isn't so important but the performance of the team as a whole is what counted," said the 22-year-old.
"It wasn't a good start for us but thankfully everything worked out well in the end and I'm just really happy that we won the game."
One slight criticism of Messi to date has been that he has struggled to take his club form on to the international stage.
During Argentina's unconvincing qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup, he was the only ever present but managed only four goals from 18 games.
However, 1978 World Cup winner Ossie Ardiles backed Messi to star in this summer's tournament in South Africa, comparing him to Diego Maradona, who captained Argentina to World Cup success in 1986.
"Messi is out of this planet, I would say he is so far ahead of the rest of the players playing right now and I would say historically as well. There are not words to describe him," Ardiles told BBC Radio 5 live.
Maradona inspires Argentina in 1986
"In South America, we play football a little bit differently, it is very difficult for top, top players with a lot of ability like Messi or Maradona to really put on the same form as they show in Europe. They are much more protected in Europe.
"Argentina had a torrid time qualifying and the team was playing really badly. Because of that, Messi couldn't play his normal game, but his real test is going to be in the World Cup.
"For him, it's so, so important as he has said he would give up all the medals he has to win the World Cup. It is how he will be judged in the future, so I think we'll see the real Messi.
"I have to say Argentina has such a wonderful squad of players, I'm not saying they are going to be favourites, but they are going to be very hard to beat."
Former Liverpool striker Ian Rush, who helped the Reds win the European Cup in 1984, echoed the sentiments of Wenger and Ardiles.
He told BBC Radio 5 live: "Messi is starting to come to Maradona's level and with his size people are going to compare them.
"They've every right to - he is without doubt the best player in the world at the moment."
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