Wednesday, October 22, 2014 9:59 pm
Two goals in the closing minutes in Brussels ensured Arsène Wenger’s birthday ended on a high as the Gunners completed a dramatic turnaround in a UEFA Champions League Group D match against Anderlecht.
A dull first half saw both sides fail to muster a single shot on target, with Arsenal perhaps the happier side going into the half-time break with scores goalless.
The Gunners went into the match without suspended first choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and injured second choice David Ospina, as well as a makeshift defence which had left-back Nacho Monreal pairing Per Mertesacker in centreback for a second successive match.
The absence of Szczesny and Ospina meant a Champions League debut was handed to Argentine youngster Emiliano Martinez, who was not tested in a goalless first half.
Arsenal looked a bit sharper in the second half, with Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla testing Anderlecht goalkeeper Silvio Proto, but it was the home side that eventually broke the deadlock when Andy Najar headed in Dennis Praet’s cross after 71 minutes.
Anderlecht came close to scoring again moments later when Anthony Vanden Borre’s effort hit the post, with Najar only finding the sidenetting with his effort on the rebound.
The Belgian champions were minutes from claiming a first win in this season’s Champions League and ending a run of 10 matches without a win in the competition when a dramatic late twist of fortunes handed Arsenal the win.
First Kieran Gibbs volleyed home a Calum Chambers ball in after 89 minutes, while substitute Lukas Podolski fired home the winner 106 seconds later to leave Arsenal potentially a win away from booking a place in the knockout stage.
The result allowed Arsenal to maintain second place in the group with six points, three points behind Borussia Dortmund that eased to a 4-0 demolition of Galatasaray in Istanbul.
Arsenal and Dortmund will reach the knockout stage with two games to spare, if both teams win at home next week in the return legs of their respective matches tonight.
Elsewhere in the Champions League tonight, Juventus fell to a 1-0 loss at Olympiacos in Group A while Bayer Leverkusen went top of Group C with six points courtesy of a 2-0 win at home to Zenit St. Petersburg.
Monaco dropped to second place, a point behind Leveekusen, after drawing goalless with Benfica in the other group match while in Group B, Basel lost 1-0 to Ludogorets Razgrad.