Best away performances by English teams in the Champions League – Arsenal conquer Madrid

The second part of our series on the best Champions League performances by English sides away from home focuses on Arsenal beating Real Madrid at the Bernabéu during the 2005/06 season.

The Gunners faced Real Madrid away from home in the first leg of the Round of 16 and they became the first English side to secure a Champions League victory against Los Blancos in the Spanish capital. Thierry Henry scored a memorable solo goal in the 47th minute as Arsenal secured a famous win.

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Real Madrid 0-1 Arsenal

Entering this Round of 16 clash, Arsenal could have been forgiven for cursing their luck. The Gunners had won only one of their last five Premier League games before they faced a daunting trip to the Santiago Bernabéu. Arsene Wenger’s side had also suffered a shock FA Cup defeat to Bolton Wanderers and had seen their hopes of claiming the Football League Cup fall by the wayside after losing out on away goals against Wigan Athletic in the semi-finals. They were beaten 1-0 by Liverpool in the league before this clash with Luis Garcia scoring late on to move Liverpool 10 points ahead of Arsenal in the premier league table.

To add to the Gunners’ woes, they were suffering with an injury crisis and were forced to field a back four of Emmanuel Eboué, Kolo Toure, Phillipe Senderos while midfielder Mathieu Flamini lined out at left back. They came up against a Real Madrid attack that contained David Beckham, Guti, Zinedine Zidane, Robinho and Ronaldo with Raul on the bench. The fact that Arsenal managed to keep a clean sheet in this game and the second leg at home was an impressive feat.

They faced a Real Madrid side who were still hurting from a humiliating two-legged defeat to Real Zaragoza in the Copa Del Rey semi-final. Despite winning the second leg 4-0 at home, Los Blancos had suffered a 6-1 defeat away to Zaragoza in the first clash between the sides which meant they were knocked out of the competition. Juan Ramón López Caro’s Real Madrid side were trying to atone for this defeat and they wanted to make up for their Round of 16 exit in the previous season’s Champions League against Juventus after extra time.

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Arsenal started quickly as a loose Sergio Ramos pass led Theirry Henry to feed José Antonio Reyes. The Spanish international’s left footed effort was saved by Iker Casillas in the Real goal. The Gunners continued to press the action as a sweeping move saw Alexander Hleb find Henry before the Frenchman slipped a through ball through to Freddie Lgungberg. The Swedish winger tried to round Iker Casillas but Roberto Carlos put in a brilliant last ditch tackle to deny Arsenal an early lead.

This was a nervy start by the Galacticos who lost centre back Jonathan Woodgate through injury during the opening ten minutes. Woodgate was one of two English players lining out in this game alongside David Beckham as the only English players on the field were lining out for the Spanish club.

Wenger’s side, wearing their yellow away strip, should have taken the lead when Reyes’ cross found Henry but the Frenchman directed his free header off target. The home side survived Arsenal’s whirlwind start and they began to settle in to the contest. Their first opening appeared when Zidane’s cross found David Beckham but the ex-Manchester United player miscued his header. The then England captain spurned a glorious chance six minutes later when Philippe Senderos was overturned which saw Ronaldo play Beckham through on goal but Jens Lehmann saved with his feet.

Madrid targeted the left side of Arsenal’s defence with Beckham up against stand-in left back Mathieu Flamini. Right back Cicinho also drove forward to create overlaps but this meant that when Arsenal overturned possession, they could counter down Real’s right-hand side. Before Beckham’s big chance, Reyes tried to power through on goal but Cicinho earned a yellow card as he cynically took the winger down as the Gunners began to exploit the space that the Brazilian was leaving any time he powered forward. Arsenal exploiting Real Madrid’s right hand side proved a shrewd tactic and one that paid rich dividends.

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Los Blancos continued to probe with Robinho seeing a low volley well saved by Lehmann. Hleb managed to pick out Henry before the break with Arsenal’s all time top goalscorer exposing the space Real Madrid left on the right-hand side of their defence. The Frenchman got caught in two minds whether to shoot or square the ball to Ljungberg and in the end he produced a weak effort that Casillas comfortably saved. The final chance of the half fell to the home side as Roberto Carlos produced a trademark swerving freekick that the German shot-stopper pushed away before he saved Robinho’s miscued rebound.

Two minutes in to the second half, Arsenal found the goal that their play had deserved. Cesc Fabregas, who was born in Barcelona, fed Thierry Henry just inside the Real Madrid half. He had plenty to do but he shrugged off a half-hearted challenge by Ronaldo before he strode past Thomas Gravesen’s lunge. He powered into Madrid’s final third and attacked the right-hand side of Madrid’s defence where he moved past Guti and Sergio Ramos. His left footed effort beat Casillas to give Arsenal a lead few thought likely before the game started.

Real Madrid threatened with Robinho’s wild left footed effort shot almost finding Ronaldo at the back post but the Brazilian was unable to make anything of the chance. Reyes was cynically stopped in his tracks twice by the already booked Cicinho but the Real Madrid right back avoided further punishment. Robinho was subbed off for Raul with Real Madrid’s second highest goalscorer of all time missing a big chance when David Beckham’s freekick found him unmarked at the front post but the Spaniard’s header flew over the crossbar.

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The Galacticos struggled to break down a stubborn Arsenal rearguard with Senderos, Toure and Flamini all producing important headed clearances. Beckham was played through on goal once more but Lehmann narrowed the angle and comfortably blocked the effort. Iker Casillas came off his line to deny Ljungberg a scoring opportunity at the other end.

Abou Diaby came on as a late substitute and he could have scored with his first touch with Fabregas slipping a deft ball through but Diaby’s attempts to round Casillas came unstuck and the chance went abegging. Robert Pires was the next Arsenal player to be denied before Real Madrid threatened. A Beckham free kick was headed by Ramos but the centre-back did not get a clean connection and Lehmann saved. Real created the final opening of the game as Beckham’s cross was flicked on by Raúl but Ronaldo was unable to make the necessary contact at the back post.

Arsenal defied the odds as they produced a memorable away performance against a team packed with attacking talent. The Gunners produced clean sheets in all of their knockout games en route to the final with the second leg ending in a 0-0 draw as the Gunners moved through to a quarter final against Juventus. They beat the Italian side and Villareal before coming unstuck against Barcelona in the showpiece event.

The Author

Ivan Smyth

Sports writer and soccer follower. Twitter: @IvanSmythSport

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