Late surge helps Arsenal capture dramatic three points at Anderlecht
Kieran Gibbs and Lukas Podolski saved Arsenal’s European campaign with two late goals to down Anderlecht 2-1. Former Major League Soccer star Andy Najar had put the Belgians ahead, but Arsenal’s two very late strikes stole the Gunners the points -- and spared them blushes after what in truth had been a poor showing from the London giants.
Kieran Gibbs got the rally started in the 89th minute, turning in a cross from Calum Chambers at the far post to beat keeper Silvio Proto. Then, super substitute Podolski smashed a shot into the top corner a minute later after Alexis Sanchez managed to keep the game alive with a fine chested-down ball to set up the winner.
It was more than Arsenal deserved. Missing nine stars -- Mesut Ozil, David Ospina, Theo Walcott, and Laurent Koscielny among them -- the Gunners looked uncertain and at times distinctly vulnerable on Wednesday. After Najar put Anderlecht ahead with a stunning free header in the 75th minute, Arsenal also seemed to wilt, with young keeper Damián Emiliano Martinez under withering pressure.
But, in stunning fashion, the Gunners crafted a late response out of nothing, and perhaps proved that Arsene Wenger had been telling the truth when he said his side’s results had not matched up to their performances. In truth, Arsenal should have lost the game; instead they won and are now in solid shape in second place in Group D.
In the group’s other game, Borussia Dortmund opened up their lead atop Group D with a 4-0 thumping of Galatasaray. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang nabbed a brace, while Adrian Ramos added late insurance and Marco Reus nicked the goal the evening, a delightful ship shot over a helpless Fernando Muslera.
It is true that Arsenal entered the game severely depleted. They couldn’t even field a second-choice goalkeeper and had to chuck out little known Martinez, best remembered from his nervous performance in a wild 7-5 Capital One League Cup tie against Reading. Still, one might have expected better from this proud English side.
Sanchez looked most likely to break the deadlock, testing Proto right after the restart, but both teams’ hustle belied a lack of quality in the final third. It was not down to stout defending -- Nacho Monreal looked particularly vulnerable in the heart of the Arsenal back four -- but rather a lack of ideas and quality from either side.
When Najar finally broke the match open, it was after a series of missed chances for the Gunners. Santi Cazorla, scorless since the Community Shield, had two of the best efforts of the night stopped awkwardly by Proto, including a solo dash in on goal that he should have scored on. Arsenal’s main playmaker in Ozil's absence simply looks devoid of confidence, with the snap usually found on his shots and free-kicks simply missing.
Martinez, for all his inexperience, did well to beat back a series of late chances from Anderlecht as the defense in front of him evaporated. And it looked for a time after Najar’s goal that Arsenal were going to wilt under the pressure in a manner that will be familiar to many Arsenal fans of long-standing. Instead, they gutted it out, first behind Gibbs’ side-footed volley, and then with Podolksi’s exploitation of Anderlecht’s woeful back line.
Whether or not Arsenal can build on this result is an open question. They still look very callow in the back, and very thin in the ranks. But this was the kind of result good teams get. A win on a day when they played quite poorly indeed.
Elsewhere, Atletico laid waste to Malmo, 5-0, to snag a share of the Group A lead. Koke, Mario Mandzukic, Cerci, Diego Godin and Antoine Griezmann had the honors, with Atleti turning on the jets after the break to blow Malmo away with a 13-minute, three goal burst. They are tied on six points with Olympiakos, who stunned Juventus behind a goal from Patjim Kasami.
Ludogorets were able to capitalize on an early red card for Basel’s Serey Die, getting a very late winner from Yodan Minev, who struck home a fabulous solo goal. The Bulgarians dominated the game, and the result is good news for Liverpool, who were swept aside by Real Madrid in Group B’s other match.
Monaco could not make a dent in Benfica despite the Portuguese ginats have Lisandro expelled for two yellows; they slumped to a 0-0 home draw that leaves them second on five points in Group C. Bayer Leverkusen, on the other hand, rocked Zenit St. Petersburg 2-0 behind goals from Giulio Donati And Kyriakos Papadopolous to seize the top of the table.