Arsenal struck two late goals to come from behind and secure a much-needed Champions League win against Anderlecht in Brussels. Trailing to Andy Najar’s 71st minute goal, Arsenal fought back in dramatic circumstances, with first Kieran Gibbs finding an 89th minute equalizer and then Lukas Podolski lashing a shot home from close range in injury time.
Coming into the contest on the back of a disappointing 2-2 draw at home to Hull City on Saturday, Arsenal were again far from convincing. And a continued makeshift defense could and should have been punished further in the second half. But Anderlecht missed a series of chances after going in front to allow Arsenal to show the kind of late resolve that has been so important to prevent their early season containing even further disappointment.
The result means Arsenal move onto six points after three games, three points behind Group D leaders Borussia Dortmund, and should go a long way to securing qualification if they can triumph again when Anderlecht visit the Emirates Stadium in two weeks’ time. Having let three points cruelly slip by, the Belgian champions stay bottom with just a single point.
It could be a crucial result in determining the outcome of the group, but other than the scoreline there is little positive for Arsene Wenger to take away on his 65th birthday. Seventh in the Premier League and with yet another injury crisis crudely exposing a lack of depth in defense, it continues to be a difficult period for the Frenchman. On Wednesday he again fielded Nacho Monreal as a makeshift center-back, while Argentine Emiliano Martinez made his European debut in goal, with Wojciech Szczesny suspended and David Ospina injured.
As on Saturday, Monreal looked ill at ease early on when being booked for hauling down Anderlecht striker Cyriac. When Borussia Dortmund visited the same venue three weeks ago they emerged with an emphatic 3-0 win, but there were few signs that Arsenal would enjoy a similarly comfortable evening. The best moment of the opening half came for the visitors came when Alexis Sanchez pulled the ball back for Santi Cazorla but the Spaniard miscued to send his shot horribly wide.
Aaron Ramsey was similarly errant with a similar chance after the interval. And with 19 minutes remaining Arsenal were left staring at the possibility of a second defeat in three Champions League games to inflict massive damage on their hopes of making the last 16. Dennis Praet was allowed to run onto a ball in the box, come out, then turn and deliver a cross into the center of the area that Honduras international Najar was left free to head past Martinez.
Things could soon have got much worse for the visitors. First Anthony vanden Borre struck the crossbar with Arsenal’s defense all at sea and Najar fired the rebound into the side netting. Substitute Mario Suarez, too, soon missed another presentable chance.
The Belgians, who have finished bottom on their last seven appearances in the Champions League group stage, were punished for their profligacy to leave their hopes of reaching the knockout phase for the first time in 2000 hanging by a thread. The first goal had real quality about it, with Calum Chambers crossing to the back post where Arsenal’s other full-back Gibbs met it with a perfectly executed side-foot volley into the corner of the net. Then moments later Anderlecht couldn’t’ clear Sanchez’s pass back across the penalty area and Podolski supplied a typically ruthless, powerful finish to get all three points.