A superb solo strike from Thierry Henry early in the second half earned Arsenal FC a famous win at Real Madrid CF which left the English side well placed to reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League.
The France forward sliced through the Madrid defence just over a minute into the second half, holding off three challenges to beat Iker Casillas with a low shot. Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger said beforehand that if his team were to have any chance of success they had first to defend as a unit and his words proved prophetic as the visitors' youthful defence, with Kolo Touré its oldest member at 24, held firm in the face of mounting pressure.
Madrid had scored inside the first ten minutes of their last three matches, but the first chance of tonight's encounter was created by the visitors before 90 seconds had elapsed. Lone striker Henry set José Antonio Reyes free on the left, only for the forward to be thwarted by another Spanish international as Casillas stood tall to block his shot with an outstretched left hand. Madrid's central defensive pairing of Jonathan Woodgate and Sergio Ramos had kept clean sheets on each of the ten occasions they had previously appeared together, but they were undone again in the eighth minute by another Henry through-ball. This time it took a last-ditch tackle from Roberto Carlos to deny Fredrik Ljungberg.
Madrid were then forced to reshuffle as Woodgate limped off clutching his thigh to be replaced by Álvaro Mejía, and there was more uncertainty in the home rearguard moments later as Reyes's deep left-wing cross found Henry unmarked at the far post. The 28-year-old looked poised to score yet headed wide. The hosts were not playing like a side that had scored 18 goals in winning their last six league games, struggling to establish any attacking rhythm in the opening half-hour as Arsenal's defensive fledglings kept their shape expertly; albeit with the help of a protective five-man midfield.
Lehmann in action
Madrid's first genuine chance of the night came as a direct result of an Arsenal mistake as David Beckham dispossessed Philippe Senderos and sprinted on to Ronaldo's return pass. Like Casillas at the other end, Jens Lehmann was alert and deflected the England captain's shot behind after racing off his line. The Arsenal goalkeeper was then called into action by Robinho and Roberto Carlos, the latter with a typically thunderous free-kick, before the interval, although Henry might have done better than shoot weakly at Casillas when freed by Aleksandr Hleb.
The Arsenal captain showed his true ability two minutes after the restart when he collected a pass from Cesc Fabregas on the halfway line and turned purposefully towards goal. Henry displayed great strength to ride challenges from Guti and Álvaro before sliding a left-foot shot perfectly across Casillas and into the far corner of the net despite Ramos's desperate lunge. The goal temporarily silenced the Bernabéu and Ljungberg twice and Henry again both had glimpses of goal, while the home crowd did not rediscover their voices until the introduction of Raúl González just past the hour.
Madrid's returning talisman - who became the first player to make 100 appearances in the UEFA Champions League - nearly had a similarly galvanising effect on his team, glancing fractionally over from Beckham's left-wing free-kick. Despite Madrid's deficit it was Casillas who was the busier goalkeeper in the closing minutes, denying Ljungberg and substitutes Vassiriki Diaby and Robert Pirès, although Ramos came close to bundling in a late equaliser.