The South American side was far from its best and came close to losing to Saudi Arabia, which is led by former Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard, and which has already crashed out of 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying.
The host had the clearest chances of a surprisingly tight opening half.
Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero had to make a smart save after 18 minutes from a Mohammed Al Shamrani cross-shot after a counter-attack.
Al Shahrani then had the ball in the net 10 minutes later when he headed in a Saud Kariri free-kick but the flag was already raised for offside.
Alejandro Sabella's side produced little as an attacking threat in the first 45 minutes with Manchester City fullback Pablo Zabaleta its best option while Benfica's Eduardo Salvio buzzed about in midfield.
At half-time Sabella sent on Wigan Athletic striker Franco Di Santo and Ricardo Alvarez to give his side more of an attacking edge.
But the bad night for Messi and company continued as Saudi Arabia maintained its superiority and the visitor needed Fabricio Coloccini to make a goal-line clearance from a Mansoor Al Harbi shot.
After that Argentina improved slightly and a good combination between Sergio Aguero and substitute Augusto Fernandez finished with the latter forcing Waleed Abdullah into a good stop. The ball rebounded to Di Santo but he could not find the net.
Messi had been a near passenger for the majority of the night until he finally provided a glimpse of his brilliance. The Barca playmaker avoided a pair of defenders before his snap-shot was blocked by defender Al Harbi.
Shortly after, the Rosario-born midfielder connected well with Angel Di Maria and went head-to-head with Abdullah, who made another excellent stop and preserve his clean sheet.
"The truth is that we didn't play well. I think it was important to avoid the defeat," Aguero said.
"Despite the bad result, these kind of games are important for the growth of this squad."
Sabella used the match to test some players ahead of the next South American World Cup qualifiers, scheduled for next March.
Before that Argentina will face two more friendlies against Brazil in Buenos Aires on 21 November and Sweden on 6 February in Solna.