In 2006 Arsenal reached the UEFA Champions League final for the first and so far only time in their history. There they faced Barcelona; a team who had been revived and who were about to start a period of domination.
Despite having Jens Lehmann sent off in the 18th minute, The Gunners took the lead through Sol Campbell and kept the lead until the 76th minute. Samuel Eto’o equalised before Belletti hit the winner in the 81st minute.
Arsenal had a great team in that golden era of theirs. Many of that starting line-up were also part of the team that enjoyed an unbeaten season in 2003-2004. The Champions League runners-up side was spearheaded by club legend Thierry Henry, but since that day they have not won a trophy. This years side looks to be one of the most settled since.
A fantastic victory over Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday night led to Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp saying that Arsenal can win the Champions League. Is this side better than the one in 2006? Let’s take a look at both starting eleven’s from the respective games.
Arsenal’s starting XI v Barcelona – 2006 Champions League Final, 17/05/06
Jens Lehmann, Emmanuel Eboue, Kolo Toure, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Robert Pires, Gilberto Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Alexander Hleb, Freddie Ljungberg, Thierry Henry.
Arsenal’s starting XI v Borussia Dortmund 2013/2014 Champions League Group F, 06/11/13
Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey, Mezut Özil, Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud.
Initially when looking at both teams the one from 2006 stands out more. Those players are legends at Arsenal and had/have great careers, with the core of the team from the 2003/04 Invincibles. They all clicked and linked well together, and were a superb team in all meanings of the word.
Goalkeeper: Jens Lehmann had his moments in his time at Arsenal, he was capable of some match winning performances and also some glaring errors. He brought extra experience to that side though, and made the backline look solid. Wojciech Szczesny’s place in the current Arsenal team has been questioned and they have been continually linked with signing another goalkeeper. He doesn’t quite bring the same presence to the side yet. 2006 1-0 2013 Defence: Kolo Toure was in his prime during this period and alongside Sol Campbell provided Arsenal with one of the strongest defences in the Premier League at the time. It was to be Campbell’s last season in his first spell at Arsenal, but he was still only 31 and again added further experience to the backline. The full-backs were younger, Cole, 25, and Eboue 22, but it was a settled defence who knew each other well. This was shown by the fact they stifled Barcelona for most of the final despite having ten-men. However last night, Arsenal kept a clean sheet away to Dortmund, one of the best attacking teams in Europe. Per Mertesacker has come a long way since arriving from Werder Bremen over two years ago. An astute signing it has turned out to be, and the German seems to have had a great effect on Laurent Koscielny too. Gibbs and Sagna looked comfortbale too, with Gibbs still relatively young he could be a part of Arsenal’s defence for years to come. The defences when compared are similar, plenty of experience and they compliment each other. I can’t separate the two.
2006 1-0 2013
Midfield: Cesc Fabregas aside the Arsenal midfield from 2006 had all enjoyed their best years at the club and played with each other on countless occasions. Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg particularly were capable of creating something out of nothing. It would often be such attractive football as well, which Arsenal became synonymous for. It was as if they could read each other’s minds, and along with Thierry Henry they would always know each other’s movements. This combined with Gilberto Silva created a perfect blend. He would often go unnoticed alongside the more attractive flair and effervescence of the team. He was a key player however, breaking up play and getting stuck into tackles. Mathieu Flamini perhaps represents the closest thing to Gilberto these days but not at the same standard. The attacking midfielders on offer to Wenger now are indeed close if not matching the quality of 2006. Aaron Ramsey is in the form of his life, and producing the goods perhaps a lot earlier than some imagined. Santi Cazorla and Mezut Ozil are capable of just as beautiful football as Pires and Ljungberg. Arteta and Rosicky both experienced pro’s are capable of doing both the hard work and the fancy work. Perhaps there is more versatility in the midfield of the current Arsenal team but again I find it hard to separate them. Actually due to the depth of this years squad (I haven’t even mentioned Wilshere, Walcott, and Oxlade-Chamberlain) they get the nod over the 2006 alumni.
2006 1-1 2013
Strikers: Olivier Giroud has had a fantastic start to his second season at the club and has far surpassed many people’s expectations of him. He is a worthy man to lead the line for the current Arsenal team. Thierry Henry however, it would be impossible for me to say that anyone is, possibly ever will be a better striker for Arsenal than Henry. The club’s record goalscorer finished off the perfect moves from Ljungberg and Pires with delightfully executed efforts. Throughout his time at Arsenal he continued to delight not just Arsenal fans, but fans of the beautiful game. Without Henry, The Gunners would not have been the same through their golden era. That might be an obvious statement, but what I mean is that he isn’t someone you could easily replace. Van Persie was good, but he was nothing compared to Thierry. Giroud can also make himself a legend at Arsenal if he can contribute to some much needed success at the club, but right now there is no point arguing which team had the stronger strike-force, and there is no need to look towards the back-up players either.
2006 2-1 2013
So there we have it, in my opinion, the 2006 team is just about a stronger line-up compared to todays side. There isn’t much in it though, and that is a huge compliment for the current squad. Arsenal were at the periphery of the English game over the 2002-2006 period. Wenger has struggled to get his side back up to that level, but it finally seems that things are coming together and Arsenal are on their way to the top once more.