The 16th February marked the fourth anniversary of that infamous match against Barcelona at the Emirates in which we beat all the odds to win 2-1.
With our match against Monaco imminent, I thought I’d take a pleasant jaunt down (recent) memory lane and look back at a few of the most exhilarating matches over the last four years.
26th November 2014 vs. Borussia Dortmund (2-0)
We’ll start with the most recent match, which was a little bit of a shock result from our point of view.
Although we were at home, we’d just lost to Manchester United at home (undeservedly) four days prior and before that, had also lost 2-1 away to Swansea.
We’d also disappointingly drawn with Anderlecht, while Dortmund were cruising through the group stages, and our team was racked with injuries, including Jack Wilshere. Olivier Giroud was also disqualified from competing.
To say expectations were low is an understatement, especially after a deserved 2-0 loss away at the hostile Westfalenstadion. We knew that all we needed was a draw to qualify and most of us thought that was probably the best we were going to get.
A goal in the second minute courtesy of Yaya Sanoga gave us a firm hold on the game and, despite a period of sustained pressure from Dortmund at the end of the first half, we stood firm.
In the 57th minute Alexis scored a stunning goal from outside the area, receiving the ball from Santi Cazorla (his second assist of the night) and curling it into the top right hand corner with his right foot, looping over the goalkeeper.
The cold, wet night ended in victory and we successfully progressed to the knock-out stages of the Champion’s League, which is where we find ourselves now.
13th March 2013 vs. Bayern Munich (0-2)
This match was a humdinger (you heard me). I remember the pride bursting from my chest like it was yesterday.
We had just lost to That Lot (2-1) in our last match ten days earlier and the odds on us actually getting a result away to the five-time winners of the Champion’s League were low. Most of us thought there was no chance we’d get a win, especially after the 3-1 drubbing we’d received at the Emirates.
However, the laws of Champion’s League football state that we had to at least turn up and field a team for the match… and turn up we did.
The team we fielded that evening against a formidable Bayern team wasn’t too dissimilar to our squad now.
The only difference was instead of young Calum Chambers or Hector Bellerin at right back, we the equally young Carl Jenkinson, who’s currently out on loan to West Ham (‘avin’ a right old jolly-up and sending their banter rate through the roof, reports say).
We also had our recently departed Lukasz Fabianski in goal instead of David Ospina or Wojciech Szczesny.
Our pessimism was soon erased as soon as Giroud scored a tap in (or thump in, in his case) put across goal by Theo Walcott in the third minute.
From then on, it was all hands on deck as Bayern peppered us with crosses and shots. However, despite our defence causing me to have heart palpitations at the tender age of 23, we looked dangerous on the counter.
The game was electric with players flying in for tackles left and right, yellow cards being dished out to practically everyone on the pitch and Arjen Robben on a one-man mission to make the entire world hate him.
Fabianski was an absolute hero, saving every ball hammered, trickled or downright thumped at him.
A second goal towards to end of the game from a Laurent Koscielny header upped everyone’s adrenaline tenfold.
Could we do it?
Could we beat Bayern Munich and progress to the next stage of the Champion’s League?
Could we defy all the odds?
No. Unfortunately not.
But the fight and heart the players showed that evening was enough for the majority of Arsenal fans to go to bed that night with a nice, warm, proud feeling in their stomach (or was that the aftershock from nerves?).
6th March 2012 vs. AC Milan (3-0)
Losing 4-0 away to AC Milan wasn’t just humiliating because of the score line; we played some of the worst football both collectively and individually I think I’ve ever seen us play. Therefore, when Milan came to the Emirates, we had a point to prove in more ways than one.
Make the impossible, possible. Or something.
The team was a little different back then, He Who Shall Not Be Named was still prancing around up top, and Alex song and Thomas Vermaelen hadn’t jumped ship yet either.
Another early goal, this time from Koscielny, gave us a good basis to work on. We looked up for it and as if the team really believed we could have a good go at progressing; the crowd reacted and the atmosphere was fizzing.
A second goal from Tomas Rosicky in 26th minute only lifted the energy further and by now the fans genuinely felt like we could make the comeback we needed.
When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain earned a penalty and He Who Shall Not Be Named stepped up to take it, I honestly couldn’t watch the screen. H.W.S.N.B.N. looked annoyingly cocky and my brain wasn’t having any of it until the ball was in the back of that net.
By this point, I was sweating, hyperventilating and almost sobbing, which wasn’t helped by the fact Milan asked us to place to ball over the spot a couple of extra times, just to amp up the nerves even more.
He scored. Of course.
Again, unfortunately we didn’t manage to get the goal we needed to take the match further to extra time. I remember how defeated the team looked, sitting on the pitch, staring at the ground, and that was what proved it meant just as much to them as it did to us.
Something we’d needed proving after the previous performance.
16th February 2011 vs. Barcelona 2011 (2-1)
Watching this match back never fails the give me goosebumps to this day.
It was back in the days of black and white telly, back when Cesc Fabregas (booo), Samir Nasri (booo), Emmanuel Eboue, Johan Djourou, Gael Clichy (muted boo) and the enigmatic Gervinho all still wore a red and white shirt.
Jack Wilshere still talks about the atmosphere inside the Emirates that evening. I don’t think there was ever a quiet moment – something that I’m not sure has ever been replicated since.
Predictably, Barcelona started strongly and the first 60 minutes consisted of us attempting to keep them away from our goal. When Lionel Messi finally scored, most of us knew it’d been coming for a while and, despite the encouragement from the fans, I don’t think many of us expected to come back.
When H.W.S.N.B.N. scored the equaliser from what looked like an impossible angle, I squealed.
When Andrey Arshavin scored to put us 2-1 up, I just about lost it.
It was all a bit of a blur from then on. Away at University, I’m 99% sure I just wept at my telly for the rest of the match.
Even though we went on to lose controversially at the Camp Nou, it was a landmark victory because it showed the world that we were still capable of beating big teams, that Barcelona aren’t invincible, and that Arsenal deserve to be in Europe.
Bring it on!