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Arsenal stun Real Madrid
February 22, 2006 04:00 IST
Champions League Last 16 first leg
Arsenal made a sensational return to form when a virtuoso solo goal from Thierry Henry earned them a 1-0 win over Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League knockout tie at the Bernabeu on Tuesday.
The French striker brushed off three challenges as he weaved his way into the area from close to the halfway line and steered a shot low past Iker Casillas two minutes after halftime to give Arsenal victory in the first ever European meeting between the two sides.
The goal was just reward for the way a largely depleted Arsenal side carried the game to Real in the first half, when they created three scoring chances in the opening 15 minutes, and then defended superbly against an uninspired Real strike force.
It was Real's first home defeat in the competition since they lost 1-0 to AS Roma in the group stage in October 2002 and the first time in 19 home European games that they have not managed to find the back of the net.
For Arsenal the victory made them the first ever English side to win at the Bernabeu and was their fourth successive away win in the competition, and their fifth without conceding a goal home or away.
More importantly perhaps it left them on the verge of booking their place in the quarter-finals in the second leg at Highbury in two weeks time.
The Londoners, who have experienced a worrying slump in form since their impressive qualification for the knockout stage at the start of December, looked to be in confident mood on their return to European competition.
Henry sliced through the Real midfield with barely a minute on the clock before slipping a neat pass to Jose Antonio Reyes on the left.
The Spaniard fired off a sharp shot after darting into the area, but Casillas got a hand to it to beat the ball away for a corner.
Six minutes later Henry threaded another great ball past the static Real back four, but this time Freddie Ljunberg was unable to take advantage.
The breathless start clearly took its toll on Real Madrid centre-back Jonathan Woodgate who left the field in the ninth minute clutching his left hamstring.
Arsenal almost took advantage a minute later when Reyes floated a perfectly weighted cross into the area, but Henry wasted the chance and sent his header wide of the far post.
Real's first chance did not come until the 26th minute when David Beckham, playing his first match against Premiership opposition since joining the Spaniards three years ago, headed wide of the post.
The England captain had a second opportunity a few minutes later, but this time he lashed wide of the post after a clever assist from Ronaldo.
Despite missing three of their first choice defenders, the Arsenal back four managed to restrict Real to long range efforts on goal and keeper Jens Lehmann was only seriously pressed into action when Robinho fired off a half-volley just before the break.
Ronaldo, who launched an attack on the Real fans for their lack of support on the eve of the match, turned in an anonymous performance.
If Arsenal were slow to take advantage in the first half, they made no mistake at the start of the second, when Henry broke quickly after Ronaldo had lost the ball on the halfway line.
The Frenchman, whose future at Highbury is still in doubt, almost nonchalantly shrugged off three challenges before steering the ball past Casillas to put Arsenal in front and take his total in the Champions League to 40.
Real's heads dropped after the setback and they struggled to hold on to the ball in midfield and looked desperately short of ideas in attack.
Coach Juan Ramon Lopez Caro responded by sending on Raul for his 100th appearance in the Champions League, but the Spain striker's only chance was well saved by Lehmann in the dying minutes.
UEFA Champions League 2005-06: The Complete Coverage