Real Madrid 0 Arsenal 1
Arsene Wenger got what he had demanded when Thierry Henry lead a superb team effort as Arsenal recorded a famous win in the first leg of their Champions League clash with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu tonight.
The Gunners skipper netted a breathtaking solo effort at the start of the second half, which proved enough to give the visitors a slender advantage to defend at Highbury in a fortnight.
It was a brilliant all-round performance from Wenger’s men, who battled from kick-off to frustrate the hosts with a solid defensive display and some exquisite counter-attacks, which stretched Real time and again.
Wenger’s side almost got off to a flying start when Henry surged forwards, before releasing Jose Antonio Reyes into the left side of the penalty area. The angle, though, was just too tight and Iker Casillas got down to make a smart, one-handed save.
Reyes almost got away again after five minutes, but Thomas Gravesen, formally of Everton, defended well in his own box to snuff out the danger before Ljungberg was put in by Henry, with only a last-gasp saving tackle stopping the Swede from having a shot on goal.
Real were forced into a change when Jonathan Woodgate limped off after just nine minutes, to be replaced by Alvaro Mejia – leaving a question mark over the England defender’s hopes of an international recall next week.
It was still all Arsenal – and Reyes’ cross from the left was headed just wide by Henry, who climbed well in the six-yard box but for once was off-target.
The home side finally created their first meaningful attack when the ball was swung over from the left, and Beckham was just unable to connect when arriving at speed at the far post.
Reyes got ahead of Cicinho, and was brought down on the edge of the area, earning the Real full-back a yellow card in the 27th minute.
Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann pulled off a fantastic save with his legs to deny Beckham after the England captain had been put clear by a clever reverse pass from Ronaldo on the edge of the Arsenal box.
Alexander Hleb and Henry combined to put the Frenchman away down the right, and his low cut-back went right across goal as for once Arsenal lacked support.
As the first half drew to an exciting close, Henry again found himself clear down the left and into the area – but this time his cross was too close to Casillas, with Ljungberg waiting for a square pass.
Arsenal took the lead two minutes after the restart. There looked little danger when Henry collected the ball on the half-way line. The Arsenal skipper, though, had other ideas as he surged forward towards the Real goal.
After holding off challenges from Ronaldo and Madrid captain Guti, Henry took the ball on into the area, before ghosting past Sergio Ramos and slotting home with a low strike back under Casillas.
The home fans were stunned as the travelling ranks of some 3,500 Gunners in the Bernabeu duly went delirious.
The night’s work was far from over, however, and the Real fans screamed for what would have been a harsh penalty when Cicinho went down too easily under Reyes’ sliding challenge.
After 55 minutes, Cesc Fabregas skipped away down the left channel and to the goal-line, before his cutback was picked out of the air by Casillas, with Ljungberg waiting in the centre.
Arsenal continued to remain composed when in possession, a situation which was now getting through to the Real supporters.
Beckham’s free-kick from the right was a case in point, substitute Raul flicking his backward header high over the crossbar.
Tempers then threatened to boil over when Reyes went to ground on the far touchline after falling awkwardly when challenging for a high ball with Gravesen.
Play was eventually stopped to allow the Spaniard treatment after he had rolled back into play – much to the frustration of several Real players, who tried to push him back off the pitch and keeper Casillas earned a yellow card for rushing out of his goal to protest to referee Stefano Farina.
Substitute Abou Diaby almost made an instant impact, but Casillas was quick off his line to save at the edge of the area with 11 minutes left, before the Real keeper also denied Pires with a strong stop at the near post.
Lehmann made a goalline save of his own to keep out Sergio Ramos’ late effort as Arsenal secured a famous victory which gives them every chance of progressing to the quarter-finals.