Say what you will about falling short of the ultimate goal, Arsenal’s run of 19 consecutive Champions League appearances is an amazing accomplishment.
This nearly two decade streak has produced a number of matches that will forever live on in club lore long after the streak finally ends (whenever that may be). In chronological order, here are our top five most exciting Arsenal Champions League games of all-time.
25 November 2003: Inter 1-5 Arsenal
Although this was the same squad that would cruise to the Premier League title and later be christened “The Invincibles”, that season’s Champions League campaign didn’t go quite as smooth. In their first three Group B matches against Inter, Lokomotiv Moscow, and Dynamo Kyiv, Arsenal collected just one point. The worst of those performances was against Inter, who waxed the Gunners in London, 0-3.
Despite winning their second tie with Kyiv 1-0, moving on to the knockout round looked grim with the match against Inter at San Siro looming. But despite not even having captain Patrick Vieira due to injury, miraculously it was Arsenal carrying a 2-1 lead just after the break. It looked like Arsenal might actually survive by the skin of their teeth until the last five minutes of regular time, when Thierry Henry, Edu, and Robert Pires all scored in what is now remembered as one of the club’s most famous matches in history.
21 February 2006: Real Madrid 0-1 Arsenal
Going to a place like Bernabeu in a first leg can put many clubs into damage control mode, trying to mitigate damage and then hoping to make up the difference at home on the return leg. But in the 2006 UCL round of 16, Arsenal didn’t appear to subscribe to that theory one bit. It took 90 seconds for the visitors to generate their first scoring chance of the match, foreshadowing who would eventually strike first later on.
Just after the break, Thierry Henry collected the ball near midfield and dribbled past four Madrid players to score an unforgettable solo goal. After surviving a number of close calls, the final score remained 1-0, putting Arsenal in the driver’s seat to move into the quarterfinals (which they would do after a 0-0 draw at Highbury).
11 March 2009: Roma 1-0 Arsenal (6-7 p)
In the 2009 round of 16, Arsenal took a 1-0 aggregate lead to Stadio Olimpico for their second leg matchup with Roma. In all of nine minutes, that lead was erased. From there, the match was a back and forth affair with both sides creating plenty of chances they’d fail to score upon. Ultimately, a penalty shootout was needed to decide a winner.
There, both keepers came up with saves against one of the first two shooters they each faced. After that, neither side would miss again for what seemed like an eternity. Abou Diaby scored on his attempt to move the score to 7-6, sending midfielder Max Tonetto to the spot for Roma. He failed to get over the ball, launching his shot over the crossbar and sending Arsenal through to the quarterfinals.
16 February 2011: Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona
The ending ultimately wasn’t the fairytale one that north London hoped for, but the first leg of the round of 16 match up between Arsenal and Barca in 2011 made the impossible seem possible for about two weeks. Listed as heavy +305 home underdogs at most UK online sportsbooks (which also have online slots and casino games in addition to just sports betting), Arsenal went down 1-0 in the first half after Messi and David Villa hooked up in the 25th.
Where many clubs would have just laid down and died at this point, Arsenal showed true grit, creating chance after chance and denying Barcelona on the doorstep a number of times. Finally, the Gunners had a breakthrough when RVP scored from close range in the 78th. The run of play was now finally theirs, and five minutes later Andrei Arshavin scored on a counter attack to give Arsenal the 2-1 lead heading into the second leg (and £405 to anyone that bet £100 on those +305 odds).
1 November 2016: Ludogorets 2-3 Arsenal
While it may not have happened against the most fearsome opponent, Bulgarian champions Ludogorets gave the Gunners all they could handle in a thrilling group stage match that supporters will remember for a long time. Played in Sofia, the Bulgarians stunned Arsenal early, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first 15 minutes. The gut check put Arsenal into action almost immediately after. Granit Xhaka got one back in the 20th, and then just before the break all was equal again when Olivier Giroud headed in an Aaron Ramsey cross.
In the second half, momentum continued to be mostly Arsenal’s, but they had trouble capitalizing on their chances. Finally near the death, Mesut Ozil received a long clearance pass and went on to score what will undoubtedly be a 2016 Puskas Award nominee. The comeback in hostile territory was complete, and Arsenal had secured a trip to the Champions League knockout stage for the 17th consecutive season.