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Arsenal FC secured their place in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the third time when they survived an examination of their credentials by Real Madrid CF in a tense, but hugely entertaining, goalless draw at Highbury.
The result meant Arsenal won on aggregate by the single goal scored by Thierry Henry at the Santiago Bernabéu in the first leg. For Madrid, it spelt elimination and possibly the end of an era for some of their star-studded squad, but only after they had given their all to repair their reputation. The Londoners can now look forward to Friday's draw in Paris, while Madrid are left to contemplate a third successive season without a trophy.
Heavy rain gave way to a slight drizzle at the start when, from their own kick-off, Madrid began an intense spell of possession football - using the full dimensions of the narrow Highbury pitch to express their attacking mood. The visitors included eight outfield players aged 28 or more, compared with three in the Arsenal lineup, and this experience showed as the hosts struggled to gain possession.
Madrid cut through midfield but found it difficult to create chances, even with Ronaldo and Raúl González both recalled to attack in a 4-4-2 formation. The Brazilian had an outstanding opportunity after only three minutes when Thomas Gravesen found him at the far post with a deep cross, but he headed down and Jens Lehmann saved at his near post.
In the tenth minute a typically flamboyant move, in which Raúl back-heeled Ronaldo clear, was only ended by a last-ditch tackle by Gilberto on his fellow Brazilian. Clearly encouraged by surviving Madrid's initial onslaught, Arsenal started to enjoy some possession of their own. When Guti was cautioned after 16 minutes for a foul on Emmanuel Eboué, Henry lifted the free-kick in and Philippe Senderos headed just wide when unmarked in a central position.
Encouraged by this Arsenal indulged in some intricate moves of their own and Spanish duo Cesc Fabregas and José Antonio Reyes each had a shot deflected before the Gunners' best first-half effort came on 42 minutes. Persistence and skill by Henry enabled him to nudge Sergio Ramos off the ball and elude Míchel Salgado before finding Reyes whose shot from near the penalty spot rebounded off the bar.
The second half began at the same furious pace with Madrid and Arsenal immediately trading attacks like prize fighters. David Beckham had Lehmann stranded when he lofted a 40-metre free-kick over him and on to the roof of the net, then on the hour Madrid came agonisingly close to levelling. Beckham headed a diagonal Roberto Carlos pass into the path of Raúl, who struck a right-foot shot against Lehmann's right post. The goalkeeper was beaten but recovered to lift his right hand and push Raúl's follow-up narrowly wide.
Henry then took the limelight and, after sinuous dribbles, twice made room for shots from the edge of the area. His first was pushed brilliantly away for a corner by the diving Iker Casillas and his second flew narrowly wide. Both sides had chances to score in a frenetic final few minutes. With Casillas stranded after heading upfield for a corner, Robert Pirès broke out of defence and shot towards goal from his own half only to see Roberto Carlos race back and stop the ball as it trickled towards the line. Madrid then swept forward and Antonio Cassano worked an opening for Robinho, whose low shot was gratefully smothered by Lehmann. Arsenal were through.
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