Lucky Arsenal celebrate manager’s birthday with dramatic comeback against Anderlecht
- Credit: AP
Arsene Wenger celebrated his 65th birthday with an enormous slice of good fortune as two late goals saved Arsenal from embarrassment and secured a 2-1 win in Brussels.
Wenger’s milestone seemed set to be a miserable one as the Gunners put in a sluggish performance and trailed to Andy Najar’s goal with less than two minutes remaining.
But left-back Kieran Gibbs brought Arsenal level before substitute Lukas Podolski slammed home the winner just 90 seconds later to give Wenger a thoroughly underserved three points in Champions League Group D.
The result keeps the Gunners second in the table and still in with a chance of catching front-runners Borussia Dortmund, who have yet to visit north London.
Alexis Sanchez was the only Arsenal player to pose much in the way of attacking threat during the first half, and it was the Chilean who created the few scoring opportunities there were.
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One, in the first few minutes, was shinned wildly over the bar by Santi Cazorla, while another Sanchez cross was fractionally too high for Danny Welbeck to put his header on target.
Anderlecht, meanwhile, tended to rely on the counter-attack, giving the Gunners defence some awkward moments but never putting goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez under real pressure.
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Their best chances fell to Dennis Praet, who fired one deflected drive into the hands of Martinez and then sent another, somewhat ambitious attempt ballooning into the stand.
Both sides threatened at the start of the second half, with Ibrahima Conte’s effort deflecting behind and Cazorla’s free-kick finding the head of Sanchez, only for Anderlecht goalkeeper Silvio Proto to claw the ball away.
Sanchez then set up a chance for Aaron Ramsey, who scuffed wide, and threaded a meticulous through ball for Cazorla, but the Spaniard fired feebly at Proto.
And the Gunners paid the price for those misses on 71 minutes when the impressive Praet left Nacho Monreal floundering and whipped in a cross for Najar, who peeled away and placed his header perfectly beyond the diving Martinez.
The Belgian champions should have sealed victory when Najar broke again and set up Anthony Vanden Borre, who scooped the chance onto the woodwork – and soon afterwards Martinez kept Arsenal in the game with a block to deny Steven Dufour.
Although Sanchez was unfortunate with a curling free-kick that grazed the side netting, it was still hard to see the visitors salvaging anything from the game.
But incredibly, Gibbs restored parity with his first goal in over a year, arriving to sidefoot a Calum Chambers cross into the bottom corner.
And Arsenal completed the dramatic turnaround on the stroke of full-time when Sanchez wriggled free in the box and cut the ball back for Podolski to fire gleefully into the roof of the net.
Arsenal: Martinez; Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs; Flamini (Oxlade-Chamberlain 75); Sanchez, Ramsey, Wilshere (Podolski 83), Cazorla; Welbeck (Campbell 75).