Ibrahimovic had not previously scored against English opposition in ten attempts, but his two sublimely taken goals in the second half will go some way to silencing his more stubborn critics in the UK.
The Catalans began the away tie at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium at a feverish pace dominating possession and forcing goalkeeper Manual Almunia to pull of a string of saves to deny the defending European champions the early lead.
The north Londoners suffered a double setback in the first half with centre half William Gallas and Russian dynamo Andrey Arshavin succumbing to injury. But Arsenal managed to survive the Barcelona barrage on their goal and went into the break level at 0-0.
But in the early stages of the second half Zlatan Ibrahimovic pounced twice in a period of devastating football that appeared to have signalled an end to Arsenal’s Champion’s League ambitions for this season.
The first goal was completed with a delicate chip over an onrushing Almunia after Ibrahimovic had broken the Arsenal off-side trap with a darting run on 46 minutes.
The Swedish striker, who has now scored 20 goals in 34 games in his debut season for the Spanish champions, repeated his feat on 59 minutes, wrong-footing the Arsenal goalkeeper by blasting the ball into the near post corner.
With the tie seemingly over, Arsenal once again showed a resilience that has come to typify the young team this season, clawing back a goal on 69 minutes from substitute Theo Walcott – the only Englishman on display.
Former Arsenal favourite Thierry Henry replaced Ibrahimovic and received a rousing ovation from the Gunner’s faithful.
But the last laugh was reserved for Arsene Wenger’s men when Carlos Puyol pulled down Cesc Fabregas in the box – earning a penalty for Arsenal and a red card for the Barcelona captain, ruling him out of the return at the Camp Nou.
Despite the comeback few will expect Arsenal to survive their Catalan test, such was Barcelona’s dominance in terms of shots and possession. Should they advance, however, they will hope for a speedy recovery for captain Fabregas, who sustained an injury as he scored the 85th minute penalty.