Podolski pounces to save Arsenal from Anderlecht embarrassment
Lukas Podolski ensured 65th birthday boy Arsene Wenger did not leave Brussels empty handed, appearing from the bench to remind top clubs, who may swoop for the German in January, of his quality.
Arsenal (25/1 with Coral to win the Champions League) had made more than hard work of their Champions League Group D encounter, requiring two goals in the last two minutes of normal time to rescue them from another poor result.
Gunners fans will have been rightly frustrated for the majority of the game, seeing the same old problems – a lack of grit, defensive nous and questionable mentality, plaguing their play. However, the north Londoners did eventually step up to seal what had, at one point, appeared an unlikely victory.
It was a true smash and grab, last-gasp win, with a lethargic Arsenal having first come unstuck against a young, energetic, hardworking Anderlecht team.
The Brussels boys will be feeling incredibly hard done by, reflected by the frustrations of Purple and White fans who threw a firework onto the pitch, after their team held out until the 89th minute.
Anderlecht had taken the game by the jugular from the start, backed by a rocking Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, pressing and chasing an anaemic Arsenal. The fresh-faced Purple and White were not limited to harassing their opponents, however, constantly finding acres of space on the counter attack, and exposing the Gunners with their pace.
There were warning signs, with striker Gohi Bi Zoro Cyriac and attacking midfield starlets Andy Najar and Dennis Praet impressing, as Arsenal failed to capitalise on their limited chances. An off-pace Santi Cazorla shinned a glorious chance crafted by Alexis Sanchez, before smashing a free kick in a dangerous position straight into the wall.
Sanchez was easily the standout player on the pitch for the Gunners, but found little support. The Chile star was in fine form, illustrating quick feet and even quicker thinking, but his teammates were certainly not on the same wavelength.
One gliding run from the electric attacker was once again cut short by Anderlecht’s robust rearguard, but, unperturbed, Sanchez rushed to win the ball back near his own penalty area. He appeared to be alone in his desire, however, as Arsenal’s porous defence consistently left Champions League debutant Damian Martinez exposed in net.
Eventual goal hero Kieran Gibbs and Per Mertesacker failed to close down Praet, who was able to cross easily for Najar to head home and stun the Gunners.
It took some time, and three substitutions, for Wenger’s side to eventually stage a fight back, emboldened by the host’s inability to score a second.
Gibbs struck first, with a striker’s finish from Calum Chambers’ whipped cross, before substitutes Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski combined with Sanchez to snatch a surprise winner just moments later.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s lofted ball found Sanchez, whose low pass across the box caused havoc, with the resulting rebound falling to Germany poacher Poldoski, who duly fired home from close-range.
Arsenal will certainly be thanking their lucky stars to leave Belgium with three points, but will have to pull their socks up, with an embittered Anderlecht and Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund due to visit the Emirates.