Starting XI: Martinez, Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs; Flamini; Sanchez, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla; Welbeck.
Subs: Huddart, Bellerin, Rosicky, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski, Campbell.
Arsenal bounced back from one-nil down to score twice in the final moments to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against Anderlecht. A lacklustre encounter burst into life when Honduran international Andy Najar headed the Belgian side ahead with 19 minutes remaining and the home side had several chances to double their lead. However, just as the Gunners were edging towards their second defeat in the group, they levelled with through Kieran Gibbs’ cool 89th minute finish. Then, deep into injury-time Lukas Podolski pounced from close range to seal three vital points.
Nacho Monreal was selected at centre-back for the second game in succession with Arsene Wenger opting to field the returning Calum Chambers at right-back in place of Hector Bellerin. In the centre of the park Mathieu Flamini retained his place despite the availability of club captain Mikel Arteta. Aaron Ramsey made his first start since the North London derby alongside Wilshere with Cazorla, Alexis and Welbeck leading the line. On the bench 17-year-old Ryan Huddart provided back-up to Emiliano Martinez, who was making his Champions League debut between the sticks.
Arsenal didn’t have to wait long for their first chance. Less than three minutes were on the clock when Alexis Sanchez’s dancing feet made space on the right for a low ball into the area which Santi Cazorla wildly swiped at. Shinning it with aplomb the ball flew into row Z. Little did we know that would be the highlight of a terminally boring 45 minutes.
The home side, full of youthful energy and buoyed by a fervent crowd packed into a tight stadium, weren’t shaken by the early scare. A team not afraid to run with the ball at pace, they probed down Chambers’ right a couple of times before trying their luck against Monreal in the middle. The Spaniard was soon booked for a foul on Zoro Cyriac.
Anderlecht kept plenty of men behind the ball but Alexis, Cazorla and Welbeck continued to cause them problems in the early stages. Cazorla hit the wall from a free-kick after Welbeck was felled on the edge of the box. Not long after the England man headed over from a cross by the Chilean. Another effort just after the half hour was blocked before it could trouble keeper Silvio Proto.
As has regularly been the case this season, the final ball from midfield was too often lacking in quality. Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere were particularly guilty of surrendering possession too easily. That being said, one fine long ball by the Welshman did find Alexis who plucked the ball out of the sky before shooting high and wide.
Aside from Frank Acheampong’s pace on the break, the occasional lapse in concentration from Mathieu Flamini and a few Anderlecht corners the Gunners back four didn’t have too much to worry about. On his Champions League debut Damien Martinez barely had a touch before the break, but then again neither had his opposite number.
The second half was much livelier from the off. Conte had a shot for the home side deflected wide by a Monreal block. Moments later Alexis’s back flicked an effort straight at Proto after a deft free-kick into the box by Cazorla. He should have done better.
The Chilean was at the heart of all Arsenal’s good work. More scurrying behind the Anderlecht defence afforded him room to pick out Ramsey, who took one touch and hit his shot wide. If there was a positive from the effort it was that he got himself into a decent position.
Martinez’s first save came on 57 minutes as he dealt with a low drive from Cyriac, then he watched as Dennis Praet fired over wildly. As the game became more stretched Cazorla should have given the lead, but his tame shot was easily saved.
The Gunners were made to pay for their profligacy and hesitancy. With 19 minutes remaining Anderlecht took the lead. Dennis Praet sprinted from a central position on the edge of the box behind Kieran Gibbs’, collected the ball, spun and dinked a ball into the box that Andy Najar headed low past Martinez. The Honduran had started the move and his finish was very tidy.
In response Danny Welbeck and Mathieu Flamini were withdrawn and Joel Campbell and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain thrown on. Alexis moved into a central attacking position. Despite the change in personnel it was the home side who should have extended their lead. Awful defending was matched only by a comical finish from Vanden Borre that came back off the cross bar.
An Alexis free-kick came close to levelling the game, but could only find the side netting. Desperate for a goal Lukas Podolski was sent on in place of Wilshere. By this point Arsenal had completely lost their shape and Anderlecht attacked at will. Martinez was forced into a couple of decent saves as the Gunners defence wilted under pressure.
Somehow, with two minutes left, we equalised. Out of nothing Calum Chambers whipped in a fine ball to the back post and Kieran Gibbs produced the calmest of volleyed finishes to bury the ball in the back of the net. (1-1)
By the end of Gibbs’ celebrations the game had moved into stoppage time. Amazingly, pumped by the goal, Arsenal found a winner. Alex Oxlade-Chamberalin charged into the box, Gibbs crossed to Alexis and after the Chilean’s cross was blocked it fell to Podolski who smashed home from two yards out. (1-2)
Anderlecht were absolutely stunned and it’s fair to say the travelling 1,000 Gooners were too. Not long after the final whistle blew. It’ll go down as one of our greatest escapes in Europe. It doesn’t really hide the deficiencies in the performance, but at the same time it kinda does!
So, three points out of nothing moves us up to six points. Dortmund destroyed Galatasaray to maintain their 100% record so we stay in second position ahead of the return game against the Belgians.
Happy Birthday Arsene.