Arsenal have never won the Champions League or its forerunner the European Cup. But they did compete in Europe’s primary club tournament for 19 seasons in a row from 1998/99 to 2016/17. Since then, the Gunners have had to make do with the Europa League (or indeed no European football at all, as in the 2021/22 campaign). But, having finished second to Manchester City in the Premier League title race in 2022/23, Arsenal are once again heading to the Champions League to mix it with the biggest and best on the continent.
To mark the occasion, we will take a look back at Arsenal’s record in the Champions League (and European Cup) to show where they stumbled in their repeated quest for European glory.
Arsenal’s Record in the Champions League/European Cup Summary
|Season||Stage of Elimination||Games Played||Won||Drew||Lost|
|1999/2000||First Group Stage||6||2||2||2|
|2001/02||Second Group Stage||12||5||1||6|
|2002/03||Second Group Stage||12||4||5||3|
|2004/05||Round of 16||8||3||4||1|
|2006/07||Round of 16||10||5||3||2|
|2010/11||Round of 16||8||5||0||3|
|2011/12||Round of 16||10||6||2||2|
|2012/13||Round of 16||8||4||1||3|
|2013/14||Round of 16||10||6||1||3|
|2014/15||Round of 16||10||6||2||2|
|2015/16||Round of 16||8||3||0||5|
|2016/17||Round of 16||8||4||2||2|
As you can see, Arsenal weren’t far off becoming European champions when they lost in the final of the Champions League in 2005/06 (more of which below). They also made the semis in 2008/09 and the quarters five times (including during their first foray into the European Cup way back in 1971/72). But let’s delve a little deeper into some of the seasons in which Arsenal performed particularly well… or badly in the Champions League.
2005/06 – Barca Break Gunners’ Hearts in Paris
Arsenal might have gone into the 2005/06 Champions League having finished only second (to Chelsea) in the previous season’s Premier League. But their team still featured the majority of their “Invincibles” team of 2003/04, including the likes of Thierry Henry, Ashley Cole, Freddie Ljungberg and Jens Lehmann.
In the Champions League, Arsenal took their group by storm, winning five and drawing one of their games, topping the group ahead of Ajax. In the Round of 16 they admirably overcame giants of Europe Real Madrid with a very assured 1-0 aggregate victory. When the Gunners then beat Italian masters Juventus 2-0 on aggregate, many pundits thought it could be Arsenal’s year to go all the way. They earned another win-to-nil in the semis, getting the better of Villarreal 1-0 on aggregate, to set up a final in Paris against another Spanish side, Barcelona.
It perhaps wasn’t the greatest Barca side of all time and Wenger and his players certainly fancied their chances. But disaster struck for the Gunners in the 18th minute when goalkeeper Jens Lehman was sent off when he took out Samuel Eto’o. Despite being a man down, Arsenal took the lead through Sol Campbell in the 37th minute and Gunners fans began to dream of pulling off a miracle.
But the second half was essentially a rearguard action from the Gunners and, eventually, Frank Rijkaard’s Barca scored, first through Eto’o and then, in the 80th minute, through substitute Juliano Belletti. There was no way back for Arsenal and they had to settle for the runners-up medals and dreams of what might have been.
2008/09 – Wenger Outfoxed by Fergie in All-English Semi
Arsenal weren’t quite as impressive in the 2008/09 Champions League campaign and finished second in their group behind Porto. They had to rely on a penalty shoot-out to get past Roma in the Round of 16 but they made easier work of things when beating Villarreal 4-1 on aggregate in the quarters.
That meant Arsenal would meet fellow Premier League side Manchester United in the semis. The first leg was played at Old Trafford and Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils won 1-0 thanks to a rare goal from defender John O’Shea. The second leg at the Emirates was more eventful as early goals from Park Ji-sung and Cristiano Ronaldo put Man United well in control of the tie. Ronaldo added a third for United around the hour mark before Robin van Persie scored what proved a consolation goal from the penalty spot in the 76th minute.
2010/11 to 2016/17 – Consistent Round of 16 Fodder
There is a lot to be said for consistency in any football tournament. But when that consistency means getting booted out of the Champions League at the Round of 16 stage for seven consecutive seasons, questions are bound to be asked.
Arsenal fell foul of some tough opponents at the Round of 16 stage during this period. These included Barcelona (2010/11, 2015/16), Milan (2011/12), and Bayern Munich (2012/13, 2013/14, 2016/17). Indeed, it was the German side who humiliated Arsenal 10-2 on aggregate in their most recent outing in the Champions League, the Gunners losing 5-1 both home and away. Whatever happens in their 2023/24 campaign, surely they won’t lose like that again!
Can Arsenal Go Far in the Champions League in 2023/24?
Under Mikel Arteta, Arsenal have certainly shown a fearless streak that could serve them well in the Champions League. They should certainly have enough to emerge from the Group Stage without too much trouble and, assuming their best players stay fit, there’s no reason the Gunners can’t make good progress in the competition.
Of course, the initial target will be to get past the banana skin of the Round of 16. And then a lot will depend on the luck of the draw and how well Arsenal manage their domestic and continental commitments. While it’s unlikely Arteta’s men will win the CL in 2023/24, we wouldn’t be surprised if they made it to the semi-finals given just how strong English football is at the moment.