ANDERLECHT 1 ARSENAL 2
RELIEVED Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes his team can still progress as group winners after two goals in the last two minutes earned a dramatic but vital Champions League victory at Anderlecht last night.
Wenger got an unwelcome 65th birthday surprise when Honduras winger Andy Najar’s second-half header left the Gunners trailing to a team without a win in their last 11 games in the competition.
The Belgians then hit the post before left-back Kieran Gibbs proved the unlikely source of an equaliser in the 89th minute and substitute Lukas Podolski reminded Wenger of his firstteam credentials with an emphatic injury-time winner.
Arsenal’s first away goals in Europe this season lifted them to second in Group D and seemingly in a straight fight with leaders Borussia Dortmund for first place -- and Wenger has not given up on top spot.
“It’s in our hands. Dortmund will be a tough opponent but they now play Galatasaray at home, we play Anderlecht at home. Let’s first qualify and then we see how far we can go,” he said. “It was vital for us [to win], to have a chance to qualify. We are in a strong position now, so it’s down to us to win our home games now and we are through.
“The crucial point was when we were 1-0 down they couldn’t take advantage of their chance to score the second goal. We kept going and managed to score two good goals because we had the spirit and refused to lose the game.”
Arsenal’s makeshift defence and third-choice goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez -- playing due to Wojciech Szczesny’s suspension and an injury to understudy Davd Ospina -- were scarcely tested until Najar’s 71st-minute opening strike.
Najar powered a downward header past Martinez after midfielder Dennis Praet had been allowed to turn and cross, and former Portsmouth defender Anthony Vanden Borre went close to a second when he scuffed a shot against the post.
Alexis Sanchez -- the Gunners’ best player by some distance -- missed a header and Santi Cazorla forced Silvio Proto to save with his legs before Gibbs threw the visitors a lifeline when he met right-back Calum Chambers’ deep cross with a controlled volley.
Seconds later the unsettled Podolski rewarded Wenger’s decision to throw on three attackers when Sanchez squirmed into space to fire across goal and the Germany World Cup winner, loitering in the six-yard box, lashed into the roof of the net.