Arsenal History: 2005/6 was the season that Wenger’s Arsenal nearly won the Champions League

Arsenals ultimate 2006 Champions League final blow

During the 2005/06 season Arsene Wenger dragged Arsenal to their first and last Champions League Final.

Their European voyage kicked off in the group stage versus Swiss Side FC Thun at Highbury. After a tight and tricky first half which saw Robert Van Persie sent off, Gilberto Silva cracked the deadlock six minutes into the second half to send The Gunners into the lead. This was cancelled moments later following a deeply frustrating equaliser from Nelson Ferreira on the 53rd minute to make it 1-1. With some inner determination and perseverance The Gunners tickled in the winner in the final minutes of added time all due to a 92nd minute Dennis Bergkamp goal with everyone “Walking along, singing a song, walking in a Bergkamp wonderland!” with a 2-1 victory in hand.

Next up the Wenger boys travelled to Amsterdam to take on four times European Cup/Champions League winners Ajax. Within minutes Freddie Ljungberg got the ball rolling, immediately slotting Arsenal into a much wanted lead after only two pulsating minutes of action. The Gunners held onto their advantage before Robert Pires doubled it with a penalty scored in the later stages of the match, before Nils Rosenburg pulled one back for the Dutch side, but by then it was too late and Arsenal would edge out 2-1 heroes.

Arsenal’s Guns now pointed in the direction of Prague where less than 13,000 people would turn up in reception at the Generali Arena to welcome the Presence of the North Londoners. Thierry Henry would go on to win The Gunners the battle on his own with two goals, one on either side of the halftime whistle, to see out a 2-0 win over Sparta Prague.

Back at Highbury the Eastern Europeans were entertained by a larger crowd of just over 35,000 spectators awaiting them. Henry put Arsenal to the good just after the 20 minute mark and in the final ten minutes of the game a young Van Persie netted two goals to round off the Gunners 3-0 winning.

At the Stade de Suisse it was far from a thumping at FC Thun where a late saviour of a penalty from Pires again saved the Gunners three points marginally in a 1-0 victory.

In the final group stage match Wenger’s army failed to break the deadlock versus Ajax in a 0-0 draw. Despite this The Gunners finished top of Group B on 16 points and five over their visitors for the night, qualifying for the knockout stages in Europe.

In the round of 16 Arsenal faced the most successful side in Europe Real Madrid, who at that stage in history had already been crowned nine times previously at that point in Champions League history before they eventually achieved their current 14.

In the first leg Arsenal became the first English side to defeat Read Madrid at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, all thanks to Henry who grabbed the solo goal of the game to give Arsenal the 1-0 edge over the Spanish side. This would prove to be enough to seal the tie which finished 0-0 in North London where The Gunners had just about put in enough work to advance to the quarter-finals.

In the Quarters Juventus were drawn out of the hat with the first part of the toss up played at Highbury, where at last the home fans saw some goals in the knockout round of the tournament. Cesc Fabregas who later declared himself “Once a Gooner always a Gooner” before leaving for Barcelona in 2011 from the Emirates, put Arsenal a goal up five minutes before the break. In the second half the quarters were wrapped up when Henry found the target seconds before the 70th minute watching The Gunners cruise to a 2-0 walk in the park on aggregate over Juve in the first 90 minutes. In Turin Juventus had held Arsenal to a 0-0 stalemate.

For the semi-finals Arsenal came face to face with Spanish side Villareal who Pires later agreed to join after they had been beaten fair and square in both legs come May.  Little did he realise at the time but Kolo Toure slammed home from close range Alex Hleb’s low cross in the first match with minutes left till the halftime whistle, which would end up sending The Gunners into their first Champions League final come the end of the tie. After Arsenal had sunk The Yellow Submarines (the visitor’s nickname) 1-0 the two would jostle it out for a 0-0 draw in the away game at the Estadio de la Ceramica.

Out in Paris for the final with nearly 80,000 in attendance, Arsenal had no option but to prepare against a lacklustre Barcelona in Europe who hadn’t won the European Cup since 14 years earlier in 1992. After 37 minutes, an in control Arsenal side up until that point who had failed to capitalise on any of their opportunities, finally stole the opener through Sol Campbell, who nodded the ball into the back of the net from a close range free kick. In the latter part of the match a slight hiccup up from Arsenal cost them dearly allowing for Barca’s Samue Eto’o to slot in the leveller from inside the box, making it 1-1. On the 81st minute The Catalonian side turned the game on its head when Juliano Belletti forced the ball through the legs of Almunia in goal who was unable to close them in time for Barcelona to cap off a 2-1 triumph over The Gunners to lift the Champions League trophy.

Arsenal have never come so close in their history to winning the biggest Prize in Europe before or after this day on May 17th 2006.

Liam Harding

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  1. In the run up to that final, Arsenal set the record for the longest run without conceding a goal. A staggering 995 minutes and 10 successive clean sheets! A record I believe we hold to this day!

    Looking at the lineup of that season there were 0 (ZERO) inherited players as well as 5 players who were unknown bargain buys and from our own academy. We didn’t splash 800 million to reach that record setting final.

    Another proud record we have is going close to 6 years (2004-2009) without losing a single game at home.

    Yet you will always have some so called Arsenal fans smearing Wenger’s record in the competition. The ones who talk trash about the selfless true servant of the club every chance they get and have the audacity to accuse others of not being true supporters!

    Shameless people!!!

    1. Well put HH. Aside from this season, the goals conceded under MA were not different/better than the last years of Wenger. Some of MA worshippers tend to divert our attention to how things were bad under Wenger whenever MA’s performance is questioned.

  2. “Nearly” you never shoot a rabbit, as we say in Sweden. It was Henrik Larsson who came in for Braca that time, and ruined the Arsenal dream. Now there is another Swedish player who can make that dream come true in 2025, his name is Viktor Gyökeres. Get him! Get Gyökeres!

  3. It was close – I somehow always thought we’d end up on the losing side, though, for no other reason than I thought that Barca side just had a bit extra. We had some great names in our side but it was right at the start of the transition, and some of them were just past their peaks. It was a fantastic effort, though, and I do think we can count ourselves unlucky with how things went.
    I still think the ecl we should have won was the year Porto won it (2004, same as the invincibles year I think?) – we lost to Chelsea in the quarters, but I don’t think anyone else could have stopped us. Could be as small a thing as being drawn at home for the first leg.

  4. All those years in the CL and only one final, terrible record. In his career as a manager he managed to get to three European finals and lost the lot. ’92 with Monaco in the CWC, ’00 in the UEFA Cup and the CL in ’06.

    Should change his name to Napoleon, as he was a Frenchman that couldn’t conquer Europe.

    1. Rather unkind HD,esp seeing what he DID ACHIEVE

      I have a more balance wview i thouight ands still think AW one of our greatest ever rmanagers.

      Given that we were aleardy a world famous club decades before he came here it was alway going to be impossible IMO for him to usurp Chapman as our greatest ever , as when HC came we were nobodies and he took usto being the best team in the world.

      Not AWs fault and had he taken us over in 1925, as Chapman did, who knows WHAT WE MIGHT HAVE BECOME, esp if he stayed back then for 22 years whereas Chapman died during his ninth season.

      Different times, hard to compare in reality!

        1. What a very silly question! I was comparing two of our great managers as was OBVIOUS, at least to all, save only you!

          1. It would’ve have made sense if the CL/European Cup was around in the days when Herbert Chapman was our manager, BUT IT WASN’T !!

  5. The writer seems to have a very limited memory of the final as he’s made no mention of Lehmann being sent off early for fouling Eto’o, and being replaced by Almunia, on for Pires. Ten man Arsenal lead for much of the game before the late Barca goals.

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