Anderlecht 1 Arsenal 2
( Najar 71, Gibbs 89, Podolski 90 )

Arsene Wenger celebrated his 65th birthday in style with a Champions League win at Anderlecht. The Belgian side had threatened to be party poopers, but after a staid first half, Wenger’s side were culpable of adding their own depressing twist to this most crucial of away ties. Misplaced passes and uninspiring football are not the hallmarks of Wenger’s teams, but against Anderlecht, the Gunners couldn’t fire. It took them to going a goal down to finally get to grips with the game, as Kieran Gibbs volleyed in Calum Chambers cross to level Andy Najar’s opener for Anderlecht. Within the first minute of time added on, Lukas Podolski smashed home the winner after some good work from Alexis Sanchez to seal a win which maintains Arsenal’s grip on second place in group D. After their 4-0 win at Galatasaray, Borussia Dortmund lead the group.

Having secured the win, Wenger saluted his side’s resilience, especially given that at 1-0 up, Anderlecht were almost able to claim a famous win.

” I know by experience that the last five minutes in the Champions League, the nerves play a part. We had to get into these five minutes without conceding the second goal. Of course, if they had scored the second goal, it was game over. I had hope. It didn’t look like it but it happened and that means we took all the risks and in the end, it paid off. It’s a little bit of a gambling situation that happens in this kind of games and it worked tonight. It did not look obvious, that is for sure.

” We had the spirit. We had to go. It was disappointing we didn’t create more chances tonight but I put that down to the fact as well that Anderlecht defended very well.”

A youthful Anderlecht were looking for their first English scalp since claiming that of Manchester United in 2000. With Wojciech Szczesny suspended and David Ospina injured, Wenger had to use Emiliano Martinez, and the young Argentine keeper acquitted himself well between the sticks. The home side however exploited a familiar weakness and took the lead in sadly all too familiar circumstances. Dennis Praet’s cross wasn’t dealt with and Najar powered his header beyond the reach of Martinez.

Arsenal had sought to get Sanchez on the ball, and given his current excellent form, that was a good ploy. If only his team mates could have demonstrated more urgency prior to conceding, then the Gunners could’ve had the game sewn up much earlier.

Having seen enough, Wenger took off the willing Danny Welbeck and replaced him with Joel Campbell, with the later substitution of Jack Wilshere for Podolski getting a different mindset in the Arsenal thinking. Anderlecht were being asked questions and Santi Cazorla saw a chance go begging. With time ticking away, Chambers cross was met perfectly by Gibbs on the volley and suddenly Arsenal were level. Sanchez was the focus of much of the Arsenal play, and less than two minutes after drawing level, the Chile striker worked an opening which Podolski latched onto and fired into the roof of Silvio Proto’s net for the winner, leaving Wenger all smiles at the final whistle.

” We know Podolski can always score. He is frustrated and I understand that of course. But he’s important as well and he showed that tonight and he will be important in the coming months. It took him a while to get back to a good physical level ( following the World Cup win ) and now he’s nearly there.

” He has 115 caps for Germany – that is not a coincidence, that shows you his quality. I think he is a guy you want to have the ball in the box. His shot is fantastic, his accuracy is great and he has very short back lift. He nearly scored before and I know when he comes on he can score.”

Arsenal next host Anderlecht at the Emirates stadium in a fortnight, and then perhaps that crucial visit of Dortmund in late November, and then finally Galatasaray in Istanbul in December.