Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is leading the Gunners in their 15th consecutive season in the Champions League, but despite their impressive qualification record, the trophy itself has proved elusive. Like the Gunners, the teams below are some of the best not to have won the tournament, either in its current or previous (pre-1992/93) format.
After Arsene Wenger was appointed manager in 1996, Arsenal embarked on a golden period of football, thrilling crowds with their football with talent like Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira and Theirry Henry in the side. They won league and cup doubles in 1998 and 2002, then in 2003/04 went an entire Premier League campaign unbeaten, as part of a 49-game streak. Despite all this success, the Gunners consistently fell short in Europe, with the club losing to Chelsea in the Champions League during their unbeaten Premier League season. As the Blues overtook Arsenal on the domestic front in 2005, strangely continental success actually appeared to be on the cards, as they became the first British side to beat Real Madrid in the Bernabeu, en route to reaching the Champions League final in 2006. Before the final in Paris, the Gunners had gone 10 games without conceding and came within 15 minutes of making it 11, but had victory snatched from their grasp by Samuel Eto'o and Juliano Belletti. They reached the Champions League semi-final in 2009, losing to Man United, but had to sit by and watch Chelsea become the first London club to win the trophy when the Blues beat Bayern in 2012.
In the 1970s the German club were something of a household name – although plenty struggled to pronounce it – when they were desperately unlucky not to add the European Cup to their haul of silverware in a trophy-laden decade. That haul included five league titles, a German Cup and two UEFA Cups (when it was a highly prestigious tournament); it would have been three, had Liverpool not pipped them in 1973 and it was the Reds who stopped them again four years later when they met in the European Cup final in Rome. Players like Berti Vogts, Allan Simonsen and Jupp Heynckes could not find a way past Terry McDermott, Kevin Keegan and Emlyn Hughes as two of the best teams in Europe battled it out to claim a first ever European Cup. Liverpool won 3-1 and went on to win another four European Cups, including the following year when they beat Monchengladbach in the semi-finals. The Germans were left to rue their missed opportunities and these days are just happy to be in the Germany's top flight.
A football club so cool they inspired a British indie band of the same name, Saint Etienne were arguably denied success in the 1976 European Cup final by the shape of the Hampden Park goalposts, when they were narrowly defeated by a Bayern Munich team claiming a third successive trophy. Had the posts been round instead of the traditionally Scottish square, then the French side - who were twice denied by the woodwork in a game they dominated - could so easily have won. Going into the final at Hampden, the club had won their domestic league nine times, with four titles coming in 1970, '74, '75 and '76. A year later it looked like the swashbuckling Saint-Etienne would make amends by getting their hands on the European Cup as they beat Liverpool 1-0 in the first leg of their quarter-final tie, before scoring a crucial away goal to make it 1-1 at Anfield. With time ticking away, the Kop roared Liverpool to a memorable 3-1 success and, though another league triumph came Saint-Etienne's way in 1981, a financial scandal saw the club plummet down the divisions and they have never been the same force since.
Canizares, Mendieta, Gonzalez and Claudio Lopez were just some names in the Valencia side that rose to prominence in Europe at the turn of the millennium, under the management of Hector Cuper, playing in two successive Champions League finals. Real Madrid stopped them in 2000, in the first ever European Cup/Champions League final featuring two sides from the same country, remembered mostly for Steve McManaman's fine goal. The following year, Bayern edged Valencia on penalties to compound their Champions League pain. The 2004 UEFA Cup was won under Rafa Benitez's guidance, as well as two notable La Liga successes in 2002 and 2004, but the closest the club have come to success on the biggest stage of all were defeats in the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 2003 and 2007.
Captained by Billy Bremner and driven by the likes of Allan Clarke, Peter Lorimer, Johnny Giles and Norman Hunter, Leeds enjoyed a decade of success in England, as well as reaching four European finals in the (Europa League forerunner) Fairs Cup and Cup Winners Cup. After winning the 1974 First Division with a 29-game unbeaten run, manager Don Revie left to take on the England job and Jimmy Armfield steered Leeds to the 1975 European Cup final, where the Yorkshire club were confident of being crowned kings of Europe. However, having finished runners-up in the First Division on five occasions under Revie, lost three FA Cup finals and two continental cup finals, this great Leeds team were well versed in falling short.
Against Bayern in Paris, they were dominant throughout and Franz Beckenbauer admitted Leeds were one of the best sides in Europe, but poor refereeing saw them denied a clear penalty and a goal, which was ruled out after Bremner was judged to be offside. Some mindless fans expressed their displeasure inside and out of the stadium in Paris and their battles with the police earned the club a four-season ban, reduced to two on appeal. It didn't matter, because a decline in fortunes on the pitch meant they did not win another major trophy until 1992, when they captured the last ever First Division title before the Premier League was formed, although Glasgow Rangers dumped them out of the Champions League before the first ever group stage was held in 1992/93.
Eight years later Leeds returned to Europe's premier club competition and shocked everyone by marching on to the last four, losing to Valencia in the semi-finals after playing Barcelona, AC Milan and Real Madrid. Unbeknown to Leeds fans, their failure to return to the Champions League the following season would spell not just the beginning of the end for their dreams of lifting the trophy for some time, but also the club's decline to a third tier side.
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