For Arsene Wenger, the Champions League is like that girl that goes out with him, kisses him, but not much else. Le Professor is famous for qualifying the Gunners for the group stages in every season he has been at the helm. And while this is commendable, it is not enough for a club of such stature unfortunately.
Despite the heap of disappointments, there have been a few flashes in Arsenal beating the best of the best and in this way–in other words, get that girl to bed, finally.
Here are Arsenal’s best performances in the Champions League:
Arsenal–Bayern Munich 2-0
Two consecutive group defeats led Arsenal into the match while Bayern remained undefeated at home and in Europe in 2015. Marked by Guardiola’s ideas, Bayern dominated possession; however Arsenal were incisive in their attacks. Both ways met sturdy world-class goalkeeping, from Nuer and Cech. As the pressure built, one of them cracked. Neuer miscalculated a cross, and the ball slipped to super-sub Giroud who opened the score.
Then deep into injury time, another lightening quick attack by Arsenal presented Ozil with a chance to shoot from about eight yards. The ball, of course, was saved by Neuer but it had already passed the line. Arsenal had beaten the favourites. A week later they lost to Sheffield Wednesday.
Back in 2011, Arsenal with Djourou, Eboue, and Nicklas Bendtner in the back-line faced the world’s best football club, Barcelona, at the Emirates. It was mid-February as the match anticipation contained a sense of doom in London. The events in the first quarter of the match did little to dispel it too. Total domination of possession by Barcelona and then it happened, Lionel Messi combined with David Villa: check, 1-0.
But Arsenal’s Wilshere, Fabregas and Van Persie’s bursts of energy threatened to crack the playing status quo. But not before half-time. First, Van Persie shot past Victor Valdes from a narrow angle. Then a quick counter-attack started by Lord Bendtner ended at the feet of Russian dwarf Arshavin. The stadium exploded. Arsenal’s teeth bared - 2-1 against one of the world’s greatest sides ever.
Inter Milan–Arsenal 1-5
It was in 2003 when Arsenal had made pretty much everyone in England bow. In Europe, however, they still experienced the willies. Two months prior, Inter had demolished them in their own home Highbury, 3-0. Who knew their San Siro ordeal would be on the opposite spectrum?
Thierry Henry was arguably in the best shape of his career and that, coupled with an early 30s Bergkamp, proved too much for the Italians. If fact so much that they had seen nothing like it in over 50 years. Two goals by Henry, one by Edu, Ljuingberg and Pires carved a shameful 5-1 final result. It was one of Arsenal’s most convincing away performances, against a European giant at that.
Real Madrid–Arsenal 0-1
Beckham, Ronaldo, Robinho, Zidane, Carlos, Ramos and Casillas: these were the stars of Real Madrid Arsenal faced at the Bernabeu in the Champions League quarter final of 2006. In fact Arsenal came to Spain with nothing to brag about from their performances in the Premier League, apart from having Henry.
If there was any year, any match, that exposes the mystery behind Henry never receiving a Ballon D’or award, this must be it. Just minutes after the start of the second half, Henry picked up the ball in the half line circle and dashed forward, passing one, two, three, four and the shot past Casillas. The statisticians ascribed an assist to Fabregas who had simply done an ordinary five-meter pass in midfield–and that is a mark of something truly special, a masterpiece of a goal. That year Arsenal reached the Champions League final with Henry threatening to dismantle Barcelona every time he touched the ball. The Ballon D’or went to Madrid’s Fabio Cannavaro that year–I will not laugh, I will not laugh, I will not laugh!
In 2008, when Arsenal traveled to Italy to play Milan, Wenger was still amidst his ‘child players’ fetish. There was nothing sexual about it of course, but Arsenal were young and inexperienced and set to play the burly, bare-chested men from Milan who had won the tournament the year before. It was literally ‘Boys vs Men’. The game however would play out under a tune of ‘Boys to Men’, and that’s a good thing.
First, Cesc capped a good defensive performance thus far with a long-range drive to open the score. Then Adebayor carved the crushing 2-0 in the dying stages of the game. From the first English club to win at the San Siro from two years earlier, Arsenal became the underdogs that knocked out the reigning champions, at the San Siro.
Bayern Munich–Arsenal 0-2
In 2013, in of the early meeting in what has now become almost annual certainly, Arsenal travelled to Munich with 3-1 deficit previous year’s finalists Bayern Munich. What made it special is the came close to qualifying despite the grim disadvantage.
Oliver Giroud opened for the Gunners three minutes into the game, and then Koscielny gave the Bavarian a real scare when he got Arsenal within a goal of eliminating them in the 86th minute. Bayern had to hold tight and were certainly the happier side to escape the match with 2-0, proceeding to the next stage and eventually winning the whole tournament.