In the current era, the idea of an Arsenal side beating Real Madrid over two legs on the way to a Champions League final, is – frankly – laughable.
If you were born in the 21st century, you’re probably laughing right now, and fair enough.
But there was a time when Arsène Wenger’s Gunners took their place among the very top echelons of European football, and they have never come closer to winning the continent’s premier club prize than in 2006.
In 2005/06 Arsenal topped their group and overcame Champions League royalty in Real Madrid and Juventus on their way to reaching the final, where they were beaten by the former’s Clásico rivals, Barcelona.
However, the night of 21 February in the Spanish capital stands out as a defining moment of that extraordinary campaign, as the north Londoners visited the Bernabéu in the first leg of their last 16 tie against Los Blancos.
Although this was late in the Galácticos era, this was still a Real squad littered with world-class talent such as Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham and, of course, Jonathan Woodgate.
Domestically Arsenal were struggling, on a run of just two wins in eight league games, while their hosts had won six on the bounce and 11 out of ten. While simply escaping Madrid unscathed must surely have been the priority at the time, a victory would see the Gunners become the first ever English side to win in the Bernabéu.
Surely an insurmountable task?
Arise The King Thierry Henry.
In a scintillating first leg, Arsenal tore up the form book and dominated their hosts for long spells – this despite Mathieu Flamini starting at left-back alongside Philippe Senderos.
Henry was at the heart of everything, with the club’s record goalscorer turning creator as the late José Antonio Reyes and Swede Freddie Ljungberg came close to opening the scoring from his passes in the opening exchanges.
With his teammates just unable to deliver the goods, Henry grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and produced the magical moment that would win the tie just after half-time.
A minute after the restart, Ronaldo gave the ball away to an 18-year-old Cesc Fabrégas, who rolled the ball forward to his captain in the centre circle.
As soon as he collected that iconic Champions League ‘star ball’, the Frenchman was a man possessed; he surged forward, first shrugging off O Fenômeno‘s meek attempt at making amends for losing the ball, then skipping around Álvaro Mejía’s challenge and accelerating to leave Gutí in his wake.
The penalty area beckoned, and although he had been forced wide the Arsenal legend kept his composure to ride one final challenge from a young Sergio Ramos and simultaneously arrow a low shot across Iker Casillas and into the far corner.
Cue pandemonium in the heavens as the travelling faithful celebrated.
Remarkably, Arsenal saw out the game with relative ease to become the first ever English side to win at the Bernabéu. They would survive a fraught second leg, too, holding their illustrious guests 0-0 at Highbury to progress to the quarter-finals.
Source From: 90min EN