Arsenal beats Anderlecht 2-1 to stay 2nd in group
BRUSSELS (AP) — Kieran Gibbs and Lukas Podolski scored in the final minutes to give Arsenal 2-1 victory over Anderlecht and a thrilling Champions League birthday present for manager Arsene Wenger.
With defeat seeming assured, Gibbs brought Arsenal back into the game in the 89th minute with a low volley. Podolski followed up from close range in stoppage time after a goalmouth scramble to keep the London side second in Group D.
Anderlecht had sensed victory after midfielder Andy Najar gave the Belgian champion a 1-0 lead with a powerful header which wrong-footed Arsenal’s third-choice goalie Emiliano Martinez in the 71st minute.
Dortmund leads the group with nine points ahead of Arsenal, whose coach Wenger celebrated his 65th birthday on Wednesday, with six points. Anderlecht and Galatasaray have one point each.
“We are in a strong position now. It is down to us now and we have to win our home games,” Wenger said.
It put a smile back on the face of Wenger, whose side long seemed incapable of producing something special for the Frenchman’s 65th birthday.
Struggling in the Premier League with any hope of winning it seemingly gone ahead of Christmas, Arsenal was on the verge of dropping to third place in its Champions League group.
In front of a sellout crowd of 26,000 at the Vanden Stock stadium, Anderlecht more than held its own against the injury-depleted Londoners and after Honduran international Najar scored, it seemed poised to jump over Arsenal in the standings.
Five minutes after the goal, Anderlecht defender Anthony Vanden Borre could have doubled the lead but fluffed a close-range shot that bounced off the crossbar.
Arsenal took heart and never gave up. Increasingly, it ripped the defense to shreds right up to the point that even goalie Sivlio Proto cracked.
Wenger can claim credit fo9r bringing on Podolski only six minutes from time to make the difference.
Raf Casert can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert