While the iconic Champions League music may blare out of the Emirates Stadium speakers for the first time since 2017 this season, our pedigree in Europe’s premier club competition cannot be disputed.
Before our recent omission, we had qualified for the competition for a record 19 straight seasons, a figure that can only be matched by Real Madrid. During nearly two decades of action, we experienced all the highs and lows European nights can bring, with some of the greatest moments in our history carved out since our debut back in 1998.
Here we have picked out 20 of the most memorable moments of our Champions League odyssey, with hopefully many more to come in the following weeks, months and seasons...
The first goal
Lens 1-1 Arsenal
September 16, 1998
Our Champions League adventure began at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis - where we’ll return once again this time around - and our opening goal in the competition was typical of Wenger’s Gunners at the time: defence, midfield and attack linking with speed and devastation, sprinkled with a touch of Gallic flair.
David Seaman bowled the ball out to Nigel Winterburn on the left flank, who fed it to Nicolas Anelka. Some fantastic quick-feet got him away from his marker and found future Emmanual Petit, who threaded an inch-perfect pass into the red blur that was Marc Overmars racing towards goal, and his pace meant he merely had to prod the ball past Guillaume Warmuz and into the Lens net.
A stoppage-time strike from Tony Vairelles would ensure the hosts denied us a first victory, which would ultimately come at Wembley against Panathinaikos a week later. While a group stage exit meant our first taste of Champions League football was fleeting, Overmars’ goal gave us our first moment back competing against Europe’s elite.
pires off the mark
Lazio 1-1 Arsenal
October 17, 2000
After a second successive group stage elimination in 1999/00, the pressure was on Wenger’s side to make an impact in the competition at the third attempt. However, that task was made harder when we were drawn against reigning Serie A champions Lazio, a matter of months before England poached their boss Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Three straight wins put us in pole position to finally reach the knockout stages, but when Pavel Nedved netted a freak goal that looped over emergency recruit John Lukic - two months shy of his 40th birthday and at the time the oldest-ever Champions League participant - the Italians threatened to make qualification a little more jittery.
But two minutes from time, up stepped Robert Pires. Yet to find himself on the scoresheet for the club having arrived as Overmars’ replacement the previous summer, the Frenchman raced onto a long Patrick Vieira pass to sprint half the pitch, and gracefully lifted the ball into the top corner from the edge of the area to silence the Olympic Stadium and guarantee our spot in the next round.
Arsenal 2-1 VALENCIA
April 4, 2001
Having finally gotten out of a group, UEFA’s cruel introduction of a second group phase meant we had to do it all over again, but Wenger’s team also overcame that hurdle to finally set up a knockout tie, which came against Valencia in the last eight. The first leg would be remembered for two goals in two minutes that swung the tie in our favour - but one in particular.
Roberto Ayala’s crushing volley put the Spanish side in front - and would ultimately prove crucial - but in the second half we came roaring back and Theirry Henry levelled thanks to a brilliant Pires backheel that bamboozled the visiting defence. With Highbury still rocking, we kept up the intensity.
After the dominant Vieira was fouled, he played a quickly taken free-kick into Nwankwo Kanu, but a poor touch saw him dispossessed by an on-rushing Ray Parlour, who unleashed a rocket into the top corner to turn the game upside down. John Carew’s second-leg strike meant that Valencia continued their progress to the final, but Parlour’s pearler lives long in the memory.
Arsenal 3-1 JUVENTUS
December 4, 2001
Freddie Ljungberg may have gotten himself on the scoresheet twice in this game, but it was some sublime Dennis Bergkamp skill that is most remembered from this excellent win against the Turin giants.
The Swede had put us ahead when Gianluigi Buffon failed to hold a Vieira shot, and then a magnificent Henry free-kick flew past the legendary shot-stopper to put us in firm control. However, when David Trezeguet forced a Stuart Taylor own goal nerves crept into a side that had lost their opening second group phase game to Deportivo La Coruna.
But in the final few minutes, Bergkamp produced the business one more time. Ljungberg picked out the Dutchman on the right, and despite being faced with three Juve defenders he wriggled his way around them all before playing a cute dinked pass into Ljungberg to loft over Buffon and secure the three points.
psv eindhoven 0-4 Arsenal
september 25, 2002
Ahead of this trip to the Netherlands, we'd not tasted victory away from Highbury in our last six Champions League trips, but it took us just 20 seconds to start rectifying that run out in Eindhoven as Gilberto’s quickfire effort paved the way for a long-awaited away day win, and a stylish one to boot.
From the kick-off, the ball was played to our backline where Sol Campbell saw a pass cut out, and then Gilberto couldn’t control the ricochet. However, Ljungberg swiftly won back possession and sent Henry racing away down the left, and his first-time centre fell perfectly for the Brazilian to fire us in front, officially after 20.7 seconds.
Despite being overtaken by Bayern Munich’s Roy Makaay’s 10.12-second effort against Real Madrid in 2007, Gilberto’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it goal is still the third-fastest in the competition’s history. Ljungberg added our second before a Henry brace put the gloss on an emphatic win in the first Champions League meeting between the teams.
INTER MILAN 1-5 Arsenal
NOVEMBER 25, 2003
While our Invincibles’ exploits during the Premier League campaign took the majority of the plaudits, that season also featured one of our finest-ever European successes as we ripped apart a star-studded Inter at the San Siro.
Having failed to win our first three matches, Wenger’s team scraped past Dynamo Kyiv thanks to an 88th-minute Ashley Cole goal to give us faint hope of progressing, and in Milan we finally transferred our domestic form onto the European stage. Henry slid a shot past Francesco Toldo to give us the lead, but Christian Vieiri’s heavily deflected attempt sent the sides into the break level again.
But we dominated the second half, and Ljungberg finished after finding himself in acres of space in the box. Then with nine minutes to go, Henry netted one of his greatest goals when he raced the length of the pitch to turn Javier Zanetti inside out before drilling into the bottom corner. Late on Edu and Pires would take advantage of some slack defending to record a legendary result.
THE KING STUNS MADRID
REAL MADRID 0-1 Arsenal
FEBRUARY 21, 2006
Speaking of incredible Henry goals, perhaps his very best came in our first-ever meeting with Real Madrid, packed with Galacticos including Zidane, Ronaldo, Beckham and Roberto Carlos. However, it was our own superstar who stole the show and ultimately sent us into the quarter-finals.
No English team had ever beaten Real at the Bernabeu but we made history when Henry brushed off Ronaldo 40 yards from goal to start his path to glory. He escaped from Alvaro Meija, evaded a crude Guti challenge, beat Sergio Ramos for pace to somehow get a sight of goal, and with complete coolness slipped the ball past Iker Casillas to complete a superb solo effort.
It was a result we fully merited, and after a goalless 90 minutes at Highbury we knocked Madrid out of the tournament to reach the last eight. Having beaten the most famous team in the world, anything was possible…
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
Arsenal 2-0 JUVENTUS
MARCH 28, 2006
The previous summer had seen Vieira depart north London for Turin, and with a huge void to fill 18-year-old Cesc Fabregas took up the mantle. This game would see the student face his master, but the Spaniard rose to the occasion to steer us into the semi-finals.
Ironically the opener came when Vieira was dispossessed by an excellent Pires sliding tackle to start the move that finished with Fabregas sweeping the ball home on 40 minutes, and the teenage sensation remained in the thick of all our best moments. He would provide another huge one on 69 minutes when he again slipped through the Juve defence to unselfishly hand Henry the opportunity to haunt his former club again.
Mauro Camoranesi and Jonathan Zebina were both sent off in the final few minutes to miss the return leg as well as Vieira, as we recorded a 0-0 draw at the Stadio delle Alpi to move into the final four, with Fabregas becoming the talk of world football.
Lehmann sends us into the final
VILLARREAL 0-0 ARSENAL
APRIL 25, 2006
The successes over Real Madrid and Juventus had seen Jen Lehmann continue his extraordinary form between our posts, and by the time he had taken to the field for this semi-final second leg at El Madrigal, he had broken the Champions League record for recording eight successive clean sheets.
The last had come courtesy of a 1-0 win against Villarreal thanks to Kolo Toure’s goal in the last-ever European game at Highbury. Another dogged display in Spain ensued, typified by an unbeatable performance by our number one who made a string of saves to seemingly secure our spot in the final, until the final minute when Gael Clichy was harshly adjudged to have fouled Jose Mari.
With Gooners hearts in mouths, Juan Roman Riquelme stepped up to take the penalty, but our German stopper guessed the right way to spark jubilation as we reached our first Champions League final, and extended a competition record for clean sheets that remains to this day.
BARCELONA 2-1 ARSENAL
MAY 17, 2006
It was the moment that had Gooners across the world believing that the biggest prize in club football was finally heading to north London. Thousands had made the journey to Paris hoping this would be the night we became champions of Europe, and hand Wenger the trophy he craved most in his home country.
But hopes were dashed when Lehmann was dismissed for bringing down Samuel Eto’o after just 18 minutes, becoming the first player to ever be red-carded in a European Cup final. But we reorganised, and on 37 minutes Henry clipped a free-kick into the area where Sol Campbell towered above the Barcelona defence to power a header past Victor Valdes. The dream was alive again.
We valiantly held onto the lead and threatened to double it through Henry and Ljungberg but couldn’t quite secure us the cushion we needed. Eventually, two goals in four minutes from Eto’o and Juliano Belletti would break our supporters’ hearts as the Catalan club claimed the trophy, but Sol’s goal and the subsequent celebrations live on.
ARSENAL 7-0 SLAVIA PRAGUE
OCTOBER 23, 2007
We went goal crazy to record our joint-highest European scoreline, and give the Emirates Stadium its first magical Champions League night. Fabregas whipped the ball home after five minutes to kick things off, and David Hubacek’s own goal was added to by an 18-year-old Theo Walcott’s first in the competition to put us 3-0 up at the break.
We were quickly back at it after the restart when Alexander Hleb scored one and made another for Walcott before Fabregas completed his own brace after a sweeping move to edge the scoreboard up to 6–0 after just 55 minutes. Despite threatening to hit double figures, only one further strike would come when Nicklas Bendtner poked home a minute from time.
That proved to be important though as we equalled our biggest win in European competition, set in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup against Standard Liege in 1993, while only Liverpool and Real Madrid have achieved a bigger winning margin in Champions League history.
another san siro success
Ac milan 0-2 arsenal
march 4, 2008
It might not have been as emphatic or revered as the 5-1 victory over city rivals Inter five years earlier, but this was still a remarkable win as we became the first English side to beat the Rossoneri at their iconic stadium.
Our prize for advancing from the group stage was this tie against the reigning champions, but after a goalless draw in north London the odds were stacked against us progressing any further. An early scare saw Fabregas clear Paulo Maldini’s header off the line, but we would dominate throughout and the Spaniard was unfortunate to see a blast strike the bar.
We had to wait for the opener, but it would be worth it. With six minutes remaining Fabregas picked the ball up inside the centre circle, advanced to 30 yards out and sent a low shot into the bottom corner to put us on the brink, and in the final minute some great work from Walcott handed Emmanuel Adebayor a tap in to secure another little slice of history.
theo goes coast to coast
Liverpool 4-2 arsenal
april 8, 2008
We have netted many sensational Champions League goals, which makes choosing the best a difficult task. But when it comes to assists, in the eyes of many supporters there is only one contender. Step forward Theo Walcott.
Our win in Milan set up an all-English affair against Liverpool in the quarter-finals. After a 1-1 draw in the first leg, we found ourselves trailing 2-1 at Anfield with six minutes to go, needing an away goal to put us in front, so Walcott took matters into his own hands. Having received possession on the edge of his own box, one dip of the shoulder saw him slip past Xabi Alonso and Fabio Aurelio to charge past halfway, and create panic in the opposition ranks.
Javier Mascherano desperately tried to catch him but couldn’t, while Sami Hyypia was also skipped past as Walcott reached the other box, and had just enough energy and poise to square for Adebayor to put us ahead. Alas, a late flurry from Liverpool saw them net twice to advance, but Walcott’s moment of class was the game’s most memorable moment.
Triumphant from 12 yards
ROMA 1-0 arsenal
MARCH 11, 2009
Remarkably for a side who have competed as often in the competition as we have, only one of our Champions League ties has required a penalty shootout to separate us and our opponents, when we managed to hold our nerve amongst a hostile environment to squeeze past Roma.
We were pitted against the Giallorossi in the last-16, and Robin van Persie’s goal in north London handed us the slenderest of leads for our trip to the Italian capital, but it was cancelled out just nine minutes in when Juan netted. Despite a cacophony of whistles from the home crowd, we navigated our way through the tie without conceding again, to set up the spot-kick showdown.
Eduardo saw our first attempt saved, but Manuel Almunia would deny Mirko Vucinic to ensure the shootout would go to sudden death. Kolo Toure, Bacary Sagna and Abou Diaby kept their cool to heap the pressure on Roma, who finally cracked when Max Tonetto blazed over the bar to kick-start our run to the semi-finals.
BENDTNER BAGS THE MATCHBALL
arsenal 5-0 PORTO
MARCH 9, 2010
Not many players score their first career hat-trick in the Champions League, but Bendtner was never one to follow convention, and on this night he played a telling contribution to help us overcome Porto.
A 2-1 first-leg defeat in Portugal saw our efforts to reach the quarter-finals hanging by a thread, but Bendtner took just 10 minutes to draw us level on aggregate when he scrambled home, and then he tapped in his second 15 minutes later following good work from Andrey Arshavin.
The turnaround shocked the visitors and after Samir Nasri bamboozled his way past three defenders to score and Emmanuel Eboue bagged a fourth, the only issue to resolve was whether Bendtner could take ownership of the matchball, and a converted penalty in the dying seconds saw him become the only Dane to date to score a treble in the competition’s history, and round off a sublime result at Emirates Stadium.
arsenal 2-1 BARCELONA
FEBRUARY 16, 2011
This was arguably Jack Wilshere’s finest moment as he put in a virtuoso display against Barca’s famed midfield trio of Xavi, Andreas Iniesta and Sergio Busquets to ensure we came from behind to beat Pep Guardiola’s star-studded side.
Lionel Messi slipped in David Villa for the opening goal but the mercurial Argentinian would have a rare off-night by missing some big chances, and with the limelight up for grabs, Wilshere was happy to steal it. The 19-year-old ran the show against illustrious opposition, regularly taking on all-comers and driving his team forward as we attempted to mount a comeback.
And it was on when van Persie squeezed the ball between Victor Valdes and the near post on 78 minutes, and five minutes later a quick Wilshere pass was followed by another from Fabregas which sent Nasri scampering forward, and he teed up Arshavin to win an iconic game dominated by our Hale End graduate.
SILENCING THE YELLOW WALL
BORUSSIA DORTMUND 0-1 arsenal
NOVEMBER 6, 2013
Having tasted defeat against Dortmund a fortnight before, we needed a result in their imposing Westfalenstadion home to reignite hope of making it out of a tough group that also included Napoli and Marseille, but once again we would have to rewrite the history books to do so.
No English team had won at Dortmund’s impressive stadium in front of their famed Yellow Wall, and they had failed to score in just one of their previous 60 matches in their own back yard, but they had never encountered Aaron Ramsey enjoying the form of his life and the Welshman would once again produce the goods in a campaign that saw him net 16 times, including five in Europe.
Some fine goalkeeping by Wojciech Szczesny kept the German side at bay, and then when offered a first sight of goal on 62 minutes, we pounced when Ramsey headed in an Olivier Giroud knockdown. It would prove vital as we finished in a three-way tie with our opponents and Napoli at the top of the group, but we edged out the Italians on goal difference to move into the knockout stages.
JOB WEL DONE
arsenal 4-1 GALATASARAY
OCTOBER 1, 2014
Just a month after arriving from Manchester United, Danny Welbeck made himself an instant hit with his new supporters by netting a hat-trick on our way to seeing off the challenge of Galatasaray.
On what was the 18th anniversary of Wenger’s appointment, his newest recruit swiftly went around repaying his new manager’s faith in him. A pair of composed finishes after getting in behind the Turkish team’s backline arrived after just 30 minutes to put us in control of proceedings, before Alexis Sanchez added a third for good measure.
Just after the restart Welbeck completed the first treble of his career after dinking an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pass over Fernando Muslera and into the net, and despite Szczesny being red-carded and Gala pulling one back from the penalty spot, the day belonged to Danny.
arsenal 2-0 BAYERN MUNICH
OCTOBER 20, 2015
In two of the previous three seasons, we had been dumped out of the competition by Bayern Munich so when we were drawn alongside the Bavarian side in the group stage in 2015, revenge was certainly on our players’ minds when another Guardiola team travelled to north London.
This victory was much needed after a slow start to the campaign saw us beaten by Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos, but everything came together on this night. Manuel Neuer had been on top form and made an incredible save to claw a Walcott header off his goalline in the first half, but a rash moment saw him flap at a Santi Cazorla free-kick and the ball struck Giroud before dropping into the net.
In the final seconds, we sprung a counter-attack and Hector Bellerin picked out Mesut Ozil who managed to get enough power on his shot for the ball to creep over the line despite Neuer’s best efforts. The goals may have been scrappy, but they typified our resilience and desire as Wenger became the first manager to beat Guardiola’s Barcelona and Bayern sides in the Champions League.
LUDOGORETS 2-3 arsenal
november 1, 2016
Having dispatched the same side 6-0 at Emirates Stadium a fortnight earlier, we seemed destined to cruise into the knockout stages by collecting the three points we required against the Bulgarian outfit, but within 15 minutes we had conspired to find ourselves 2-0 down in Razgrad.
Thankfully, Granit Xhaka’s first goal in the competition and a trademark Giroud header would see us reconvene at the break level but as the game ticked into the final stages, it looked as though we would be losing ground to Paris St Germain as we aimed to win our group for the first time in five seasons.
But then, in the nick of time, came one of our greatest goals in the competition. Mohamed Elneny played a perfect pass over the top of the defence for Ozil to latch onto, and after controlling it he chipped the ball over the goalkeeper outside the area. He then cut inside a covering defender and dummied past a second, sending both sprawling across the turf to allow him to casually tuck into the empty net to complete a piece of individual genius.