BRUSSELS (AFP) – Late goals by Kieran Gibbs and Lukas Podolski handed Arsenal a dramatic 2-1 win away to Anderlecht in their Champions League clash in Brussels on Wednesday evening.
An Andy Najar header in the 71st minute looked set to give the Belgian champions a rare European victory at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium until Gibbs volleyed in a Calum Chambers cross with a minute left.
Substitute Podolski then struck a minute into injury time to seal all three points, to the great relief of Gunners’ manager Arsene Wenger on his 65th birthday.
After a run of just two wins in nine games in all competitions, it looked set to be another evening to forget for Wenger, but the Frenchman can breathe a sigh of relief thanks to a result that leaves the Premier League club in a strong position in Group D.
“The turning point was not to concede a second goal,” admitted Wenger, whose side were almost caught out as they went in search of the equaliser in the dying stages.
“They had big chances that they didn’t take, and our experience made the difference. Unexpectedly, but as long as we didn’t concede the second goal we had a chance at least to take a point.
“Maybe we didn’t deserve to win it because of the quality of the match Anderlecht played tonight.”
Arsenal sit three points behind group leaders Borussia Dortmund, who were convincing 4-0 winners away to Galatasaray in the night’s other game, but are five clear of the sides below them and well on course for a place in the last 16 with the reverse fixture with Anderlecht to come next in two weeks.
Besnik Hasi’s side, in contrast, were left deflated after suffering a sixth consecutive home defeat in the group stage, falling moments short of a first victory over English opposition since beating Manchester United 2-1 at the same venue almost exactly 14 years ago.
“My team was almost perfect, except for the last three minutes. We should have won the game, definitely,” said former Albanian international Hasi, who also insisted that Podolski’s decisive goal should have been disallowed for a foul on Steven Defour.
The visitors had been forced to hand a Champions League debut to 22-year-old Argentinian goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez with regular custodian Wojciech Szczesny suspended following his sending-off in the win against Galatasaray three weeks ago and would-be replacement David Ospina out injured.