Arsene Wenger and Arsenal travelled to the imposing and outright intimidating Signal Iduna Park stadium to face their sternest test yet this season, Borussia Dortmund.
BVB had struck first blood when they triumphed at the Emirates a fort-night ago and were odds-on favourites, especially after the 6-1 drubbing of VfB Sttutgart last Friday.
Arsenal were in good form as well, their 2-0 victory over fellow early pace setters Liverpool set them up nicely for this daunting trip while strengthening their championship credentials and serving up a huge dose of confidence.
Both teams needed to win to put themselves in tenable position to qualify from what has lived up to its billing as the group of death.
Arsenal, Dortmund and Napoli were all tied on six points and a win for either side would greatly enhance their chances of qualifying. Statistics did not give much - Dortmund had never been beaten at home by an English side in the competition while Arsenal on the other hand, had not lost in their last 14 away games in continental competition. As it turned out, the latter statistic proved overwhelming.
Much like the last time Arsenal travelled to Dortmund in 2011, the Gunners were under the cosh from the first minute. In that game, they had been pegged back by an Ivan Perisic strike after Robin van Persie had scored against the run of play and found themselves under pressure from the first minute.
Dortmund, roared on by their passionate and vociferous home crowd, took the game to the Gunners and it looked like Arsenal would be in for a long night. The very best teams stand up and are counted in times like this and Arsenal’s away record in the competition suggested they were exactly that.
Back in 2003, a Thierry Henry-led Arsenal travelled to face an Inter Milan side at the peak of their powers. The Italians had won 3-0 in the first leg at Highbury, the mercurial Christian Vieri displaying a masterclass in clinical finishing.
It looked like that match was nothing but a formality, especially with Arsenal missing a host of stars like inspirational captain Patrick Vieira, Lauren and Sol Campbell.
It did not matter though as their future all-time top scorer Thierry Henry inspired the Gunners to a famous5-1 victory in front of a packed and stunned San Siro. That win made the whole world sit up and take notice and it was the first in mire high-profile away wins for Arsene Wenger’s men.
Fast-forward three years later. Arsenal faced Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The Gunners came up against the Galactico’s of Ronaldo, Guti, Zidane, Figo, Beckham, Roberto Carlos and Raul.
Despite being under pressure for long periods, a virtuoso goal from inspirational captain Thierry Henry two minutes after the interval was enough to secure a first-leg win that allowed them to advance to the semi-finals against Villarreal. It was a historic moment that will forever live in all Arsenal fans memories and was the second string in Wenger’s bow of superb away performances.
A gritty, spirited, never-say-die display against Villarreal in the second leg of their semi-final in Spain booked Arsenal’s ticket to the final to face Bracelona.
Once again Wenger’s men were completely dominated by an enterprising Villareal side that boasted one of the best playmakers at the time in Argentine Juan Roman Riquelme.
Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was the hero in that match after he made a fantastic save from Juan Roman Riquelme’s penalty and made brilliant saves to thwart Guillermo Franco and Diego Forlan.
Kolo Toure’s first leg strike was enough to to send The Gunners to their first ever Champions League final. On the road to the showpiece, the Gunners had beaten Juventus and Madrid for good measure.
In March 2008, Wenger again laid down a marker for away performances with a clinical 2-0 win against a Kaka-led AC Milan at the San Siro.
This time, late goals from the absolutely superb Cesc Fabregas and an extra-time strike from Emmanuel Adebayor sealed a heroic win for a young Arsenal side. As much as Milan had more of the possession in that match, Arsenal were never really troubled and they got their goals from two sets of brilliant counter-attacks. Once again, Le Proffesseur had come out on top.
After setting another record of being the only English side to ever beat both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund away from home in a calendar year, the football world has to take their hats off and recognise Arsenal as the away Kings of the Champions League. Arsene Wenger…salute.
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