Arsenal fans know about as much about heartbreak as they know about success. They’re a passionate, brooding bunch of fans who have been put through the wringer time and time again, especially in the UEFA Champions League. Up until this season, they had spent a whopping six years without dining at European football’s most elite dining table. However, following their sparkling campaign last season, a campaign that saw them come within a whisker of a first Premier League title in almost two decades, they are finally back.
If anyone thought that they would approach the task at hand tentatively should already be thinking again. The Gunners are already through to the group stages of this year’s competition as the winners of Group B. A 6-0 drubbing of French side Lens on matchday five has certainly sent a message to the rest of the continent. Bovada sportsbook has installed the North London outfit as +850 fourth-favorites for glory in the competition, only behind heavyweights such as Manchester City, Bayern Munich and record champions Real Madrid in the odds list.
So, with a potential blockbuster second half to the season on the cards at the Emirates this term, we decided to roll back the clock and look at some of the club’s greatest-ever nights in the Champions League.
Real Madrid 0-1 Arsenal (2005/06)
The 2005/06 Champions League season was the best Arsenal had had for several years. But of all the memorable games that season, it was the first knockout round tie against the mighty Real Madrid that was perhaps their finest moment. Thierry Henry’s stunning solo goal was enough to secure a 1-0 win at the Bernabeu.
A stubborn and resolute Arsenal team led by a young Cesc Fabregas put in a brilliant defensive performance, keeping Real’s galacticos such as Ronaldo, Raul, and Beckham quiet all night. A certain young left-back by the name of Ashley Cole had the game of his life, making countless last-ditch tackles and keeping the Madrid attackers at bay. The return leg may have ended goalless, but it was enough to send Arsenal through to the quarter-finals.
Arsenal 2-0 Juventus (2005/06)
It was a night that saw one of the greatest midfielders clash with one of the greatest strikers to grace the Premier League. Arsenal faced off against a Juventus side that boasted the likes of former captain Patrick Vieira, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pavel Nedved, and Gianluigi Buffon. Despite being the underdogs, the Gunners turned in a stunning performance at Highbury that night.
After a tight first half, the Gunners roared to life in the second stanza. The aforementioned teenage Fabregas as well as new skipper Henry each bagged a goal, with the first one being an exquisite team goal. A pass from the talented young Spaniard found his captain, whose first-time pass found Freddie Ljungberg out on the right. His cross was met by a sliding Fabregas in the middle for the opener.
Villareal 0-0 Arsenal (2005/06)
That victory secured Arsenal’s spot in the semifinals of the competition for the first time ever, and after being drawn against Spanish debutants Villareal, they were heavily expected to progress. The stubborn Yellow Submarine had already dispatched Inter Milan and Rangers in previous rounds and they weren’t going to suffer elimination without a fight.
A Kolo Toure goal gave Arsenal a 1-0 lead from the first leg, but it was the drama of the second leg that makes this one of the club’s greatest-ever European nights. With a nervy goalless time headed for injury time, the Spaniards were given a late penalty and had they scored, it would have taken the tie to extra time and perhaps even penalties. German ‘keeper Jens Lehmann had other ideas though, saving from Argentinian midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme to secure Arsenal’s spot in the final against Barcelona in Paris.
Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona (2010/11)
The majestic Barcelona beat the Gunners in that final they were out for revenge five years later. Unfortunately for them though, this Blaugrana team was even better than the one that won the trophy that year. Pep Guardiola had taken the team to new heights and constructed the greatest team ever assembled. As such, they were heavily expected to win at the Emirates and progress.
Things were going according to plan when David Villa gave the visitors a 26th-minute lead. The visitors dominated possession, but the second goal never came, and Robin van Persie made the Catalonians regret not taking their chances when he lashed home a wicked equaliser in the 78th minute. The game looked to be heading for a draw until substitute Andrey Arshavin nestled the winner into the bottom corner in the dying minutes, sending the home fans into raptures.
Milan 0-2 Arsenal (2007/08)
Arsenal was unfancied when they travelled to the San Siro to face an AC Milan side, who were reigning champions of the competition. While the Italian giants had a star-studded team with the likes of Kaka, Andrea Pirlo and veteran captain Paolo Maldini, Arsenal had a team full of youngsters. But it was the Young Gunners that took the game by the scruff of the neck. They showed no fear and played with absolute freedom against the experienced Milan side.
It was Cesc Fabregas who put in a man-of-the-match performance, as he scored one and set up the other. His first was a rasping drive from 35 yards that whistled past Brazilian goalkeeper Dida. The second was a brilliant reverse pass, which Theo Walcott latched onto before squaring to Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who was more than happy to slot home.