This week’s Iconic Moment is one that I will never forget. It came in the biggest match of my team Arsenal’s history and effectively ruined our chance of winning Europe’s biggest prize.
The match in question was the 2006 Champions League Final between Arsenal and Barcelona. The moment that I am going to write about happened in the 18th minute of the game.
The game was goalless when Ronaldinho played the ball through the Arsenal defence for his fellow striker Samuel Eto’o to chase.
The Cameroonian beat the Arsenal offside trap and was racing through on goal. Arsenal’s goalkeeper Jens Lehmann came rushing out of his goal and inexplicably jumped in to try and tackle Eto’o.
Lehmann was never going to get the ball. Eto’o took a touch to get past the onrushing German goalkeeper but was crudely knocked to the floor by Lehmann’s lunging challenge. The ball rolled on to Barcelona’s Ludovic Giuly who stood to the right of the incident and the Frenchman tapped the ball into the unguarded net.
Norwegian referee Terje Hauge blew his whistle immediately. He was given two options – give the goal or send Lehmann off for his cynical foul. Hauge went with the latter and the goalkeeper was given his marching orders.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger now had a major issue to contend with. He had to take off an outfielder to be replaced by his substitute goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, who could take Lehmann’s place in goal. This would have a huge bearing on how Arsenal would have to play for the remaining 72 minutes.
Wenger opted for Robert Pires, his fellow Frenchman. This was a tough decision as Pires was playing in the biggest match of his club career and it was taking place in the capital of his home country. It would turn out to be his last game in Arsenal colours.
Sol Campbell scored almost twenty minutes later to give Arsenal the lead. They held on until the 76th minute when Samuel Eto’o equalised before Juliano Belletti grabbed Barcelona’s winner four minutes later. Almunia was at fault for both goals.
Lehmann’s sending off completely changed the game and left Arsenal fans thinking what could have been. Fifteen years have passed and I still can’t forgive him.