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While Arsenal has been on the wrong end of some of the most exciting and surprising Premier League matches in history (who can forget 2011 at Newcastle or 2008 against Spurs, as much as they’d like to), they’ve also been on the right side of a number of them, too.
Case in point, our list of five of the most surprising Arsenal matches of all-time.
Before there was the UEFA Cup, there was the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. The contest was played between 1955 and 1971 as a way to promote the trade fairs of different cities across Europe. While the tournament isn’t recognized by UEFA as part of a clubs’ official record, FIFA still considers having won the tournament to be a major honour.
The penultimate edition of the tournament in 1970 saw Arsenal weed their way through the other 63 clubs in the competition and into the final, where they faced Anderlecht in a two-legged affair. Things looked grim after the Gunners went to Brussels and suffered a 3-1 loss in the first leg. But that singular goal would prove pivotal and on the return leg at Highbury, Eddie Kelly, John Radford, and Jon Sammels would all score in a remarkable comeback that ended Arsenal’s 17-year trophy drought and won them their first major European trophy.
Even though this was the side that would go on to be dubbed “The Invincibles”, the 2003-04 Gunners had a tough go at the beginning of that season’s Champions League campaign. Arsenal went through their first three matches in group play without recording a win, including an 0-3 dusting at the hands of Inter.
So when it was Arsenal’s turn to make the trip to Milan in the second to last group stage match, most expected a similar fate, especially since the Gunners would make the trip without captain Patrick Vieira. But four minutes after the break, Freddie Ljungberg made the score 2-1. That score would hold until the 85th, when Thierry Henry, Edu, and Robert Pires would all get goals of their own in what has been called one of the greatest performances in club history.
In an FA Cup Final, anything can happen. But the way Arsenal played most of the match you would have thought they were massive underdogs. “Blame” this on Wenger rolling out with a new defensive formation instead of the usual 4-4-2, but the Gunners managed to hang on and force extra time, and then penalties, despite being against the run of play for most of the match.
With the tension heightened, Jens Lehmann made a pivotal diving stop against Paul Scholes on Man U’s second penalty. From there, neither side would miss, meaning that when Patrick Vieira made his attempt, Arsenal improbably were the FA Cup champions. Sports bettors were biting their nails and as online sports betting was on the rise, many people had managed to put a wager on one of the teams.
Caring about or even just remembering an early round League Cup match is always a surprise in its own, but Arsenal’s 2012 fourth round tilt with Reading will always be remembered as one of the craziest (and most surprising) matches of our lifetime. Based on the rag-tag lineup that Arsene Wenger put together for the match, it was easy to discern that the competition wasn’t a high priority on his lift. However, even Le Professeur couldn’t hide his dismay when his team of youngsters fell down 4-0 in the first 37 minutes.
But after using the all of the second half and six minutes of stoppage time, Arsenal had managed to chip away at the Reading leading and tie the match. In extra time, Marouane Chamakh would give Arsenal their first lead of the day that would be erased minutes later by Reading’s. Pavel Pogrebnyak. But a counter-attack goal from Theo Walcott and then another from Chamakh would seal the deal in what Wenger called one of the “craziest games [he’s] ever seen in his life.”
The 2015/16 was of course a season full of dramatic surprises, but Arsene Wenger being heavily criticized was not one of them—that we’ve come to expect. What was a big surprise was how the side responded against Man U just days after losing to Olympiacos in the Champions League.
Everyone knew that this was not our older brother’s United side travelling to the Emirates, yet given how restless the Arsenal natives were no one would have dared predict what would happen next. Online sportsbooks even had Arsenal listed at 1/1 odds (as opposed to usually better ones given the home field advantage). Thanks to an Alexis Sanchez brace and a goal from Mesut Ozil, Arsenal launched out to a 3-0 lead in the first 19 minutes. That scoreline would hold until the death, and for at least a week the doubters had been silenced as Arsenal launched up to second place.