The 2022/23 season could be a momentous one in the history of Arsenal Football Club. The Gunners have stunned everyone throughout the opening half of the Premier League campaign. At the moment, they sit at the summit of the Premier League, two points clear of reigning champions Manchester City. Oddschecker, which compares Premier League odds and free offers, currently make Pep Guardiola’s Blues the favourites to usurp the league leaders. However, that won’t bother Mikel Arteta one bit.
Could the current campaign also bring continental success to the Emirates Stadium? While City are the favourites to claim another English top-flight crown this term, The Gunners are the favourites to taste Europa League success for the first time in the club’s history. With Arsenal’s European campaign about to get back underway, we decided to take a look back at the club’s finest hour on the continental stage.
It’s been 17 years since Arsenal reached the Champions League final, and while the memory of that loss to Barcelona still stings, there are plenty of good memories from that run too. Here’s a look back at Arsenal’s 2005/06 Champions League campaign…
The Group Stage
Arsenal started off their magical run in the group stage, where they were drawn with Ajax, Sparta Prague, and Swiss minnows FC Thun. They comfortably made it through to the knockout stages winning all but one game. Throughout the course of the opening round, the Gunners conceded just two goals and kept four clean sheets. Arsenal’s sturdy defence would be the foundation of what the upcoming run was built on.
Knockout Round Victories
In the round of sixteen, Arsenal couldn’t have had a more difficult test if they tried. After losing twice to Lyon in the group stages, Real Madrid finished as runners-up to the French champions in Group F. And as luck would have it, the Gunners were drawn to face Los Blancos in the second round. This Real Madrid team was filled with Galacticos such as Ronaldo, Raul, Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham and Roberto Carlos. Arsenal didn’t need Galacticos however, they needed just one, solitary, magical gunner.
Captain Thierry Henry scored a sensational solo goal in the first leg of the tie, giving his side a 1-0 victory in the Bernabeu, becoming the first English team to ever taste success in the iconic stadium. The return leg at Highbury would finish goalless, meaning that Arsenal progressed to the last eight, where they would meet Italian giants Juventus, who at that time had one of Europe’s best teams.
The opening leg at Highbury would be the coming out party for a certain Cesc Fabregas. The teenage sensation scored one and assisted another as the hosts picked up a 2-0 victory over the Bianconeri. The second leg in Turin would again finish goalless, meaning that the Gunners would progress to the semifinals for the first time in the club’s history.
Waiting for them would be another set of underdogs in Spanish side Villareal. Their talismanic Argentinian playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme had led them to victories against Rangers and Inter Milan, and they were braced for the biggest nights of their club’s history. Arsenal would win the first leg in North London by a single goal to nil courtesy of Kolo Toure. The second leg would finish goalless once again, with keeper Jens Lehmann saving a last-minute penalty from Riquelme to seal progression to the Paris showpiece.
En route to the final, The Gunners hadn’t conceded a goal in ten games and over nine hours of football. That gave them hope of defeating a Barcelona time spearheaded by Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Deco and a young Lionel Messi. Unfortunately, however, they would fall short.
The match was not without controversy as Jens Lehmann was sent off early on for bringing down Samuel Eto’o. Despite the setback, Sol Campbell gave the Gunners a shock lead, and a lead they would hold until the 76th minute. The introduction of Henrik Larsson would change the game entirely. He would assist Eto’o’s equaliser, and would then set up fullback Juliano Belletti to score the winner five minutes later.
Despite playing with ten men for the vast majority of the game, The Gunners, and in particular captain Henry, had plenty of chances to seal the victory. On this night, however, it wasn’t to be.
Hopefully Arteta can secure us a European trophy this season…
All water under the bridge now but at that time we knocked off some big names to make the finals playing great football and I remember commentators around the world hailing Arsene Wegner as a genius and pronouncing a new Arsenel era with our “super youngsters”. Unfortunately our best player was on his way out to Chelsea our second best wanted to move to Barcelona and our promising youngsters failed to kick on. Still it was so close.
How can I forget that run. Ashley Cole got injured so Matheiu Flamini played as left back until the final. Arsenal played 4-5-1 throughout the knockout stages. Lehmann, Flamini, Campbell, Toure, Lauren, Pires(Reyes), Fabregas, Gilberto, Ljungberg, Hleb and Henry(c) was the common team. I still remember those great moments.
Henry shrugging off Ronaldo and leaving Guti and Ramos in the dust to score at Bernabeu.
Lehmann making one of greatest saves to stop Raul from scoring at Highbury.
Ljungberg tackling Zidane and standing up to him.
Pires disposing Juventus’s Vieira in midfield and helping the former captain’s replacement, Fabregas in scoring at Highbury.
The young Senderos and Toure played like lions to shutdown Ibra, Trezeguet and Nedved in Turin.
Lehmann’s super save of Riquelme’s penalty in Villareal.
And most heartbreaking was Pires’s early withdrawal to replace the red carded Lehmann which incidentally his last game for Arsenal.