Arsenal Football Club is old of the oldest and most successful in the English game, having enjoyed a trophy-laden 135 years of history. The Gunners, first established as Dial Square, have won the English top-flight title on 13 occasions while also winning the FA Cup a record 14 times. Added to those honours, two League Cups and 16 Community Shields, it is hard not to be impressed by the Gunners’ illustrious past.
However, despite such a storied history, Arsenal have struggled to make a mark in the European game. The answer to whether Arsenal won the Champions League is a simple no, but there have been a few close shaves with European glory in the past.
Arsenal denied a place in the UEFA Cup by Tottenham
Arsenal didn’t compete in the UEFA Cup in season 1972/73, despite finishing second place in the table, a finish that would usually have qualified them for the competition. The reason for their absence was that the Football League had a one-team-per-city rule. The other team from London to participate in the competition was north London rivals Tottenham, who qualified by winning the League Cup.
So Close Yet So For The Gunners In 2006
Arsenal enjoyed a remarkable run of qualifying for the Champions League from season 1996/97 to 2015/16 under legendary French head coach Arsene Wenger. ‘Le Professeur’ transformed the north London club, helping the Gunners to three Premier League titles, including the famous ‘Invincibles’ campaign in 2003/2004.
During this period, Wenger presided over one of the best teams in the history of the Premier League. However, even Arsenal’s best team of the Wenger era could not crack the code for winning the Champions League during those successful years.
The closest the north London team has ever come to being crowned champions of European was in 2006 when the Gunners played Catalan giants Barcelona in the final of the Champions League. Wenger’s team overcame the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus and Villarreal while keeping clean sheets on their way to the final in Saint-Denis.
In front of a crowd of around 79,500, the Gunners experienced a major blow on 18 minutes, as Jen Lehmann became the first ever player to be dismissed in a European Cup final when he fouled Cameroon international Samuel Eto’o just outside of the Arsenal penalty area.
Against all odds, the Gunners took the lead after 37 minutes through a Sol Campbell header from a Thierry Henry set-piece. Eto’o came close to equalising before the end of the first period, as Manuel Almunia diverted the forward’s shot against the post.
The game turned just after the hour-mark when Barcelona replaced Dutch midfielder Mark van Bommel with experienced forward Henrik Larsson. The Swedish star played a role in transforming the game. With the ten-men of Arsenal clinging valiantly to their lead, Barcelona finally made the breakthrough with just 14 minutes left on the clock. Larsson laid the ball off to Eto’o, who fired past Almunia.
Larsson played a part in the winning goal on 80 minutes, as he played a one-two with fellow substitute Juliano Belletti and the Brazilian full-back fired between the legs of Almunia to send the Catalan fans into delirium.
With the numerical disadvantage, Arsenal stood little chance of finding an equaliser against such stellar opposition. The defeat meant that the Gunners became the first England team to lose to have finished as runners-up in the European Cup Champions League, the UEFA Cup and the old Cup Winners’ Cup.
Successful In Other European Competitions
Despite the lack of Champions League titles, the Gunners have been well accustomed to European football throughout their history. The first of the two European trophies that they won came in season 1969-70 when the team from north London won the now-defunct Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, a competition which is considered the forerunner to the UEFA Cup that started the year after Inter-Cities abolishment. Arsenal won the trophy by recording a 4-3 aggregate victory over Belgian giants Anderlecht in the final.
The Gunners suffered a 3-1 defeat in the first leg in Brussels. However, they triumphed by recording a 3-0 home win in the second leg at Highbury.
However, their second and arguably most memorable European triumph came in 1994, when the Gunners won the European Cup Winner’s Cup, beating Parma 1-0 courtesy of an Alan Smith goal. Arsenal have also been runners-up in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1980 and 1995 and the UEFA Cup in 2000.
Absence From The Champions League & Improvement
In Arsene Wenger’s final two campaigns as Arsenal head coach, the Gunners finished fifth and sixth place in the Premier League, meaning the north London club failed to qualify for the Champions League. The season 2022/23 will be the eighth straight campaign that the Gunners have not featured in the Champions League.
For much of season 2021/22, the Gunners were in contention to finish in the Premier League’s top four and claim a Champions League spot. However, in the end, Mikel Arteta’s team finished fifth place in the table, just two points short of fourth-place arch-rivals Tottenham.
However, there is optimism amongst those at Arsenal that the team is moving in the right direction. Arteta has shed some of the club’s deadwood and created an exciting young team. Although they are not currently in the Champions League, the Gunners look to have the quality to mount a realistic top four challenge once more this season.
However, it seems unlikely that the team from north London will win the Champions League in the near future, considering the quality of the teams in the competition, even if Arsenal looks to have a bright future under their highly-rated Spanish head coach.