Arsène Wenger admitted it had been difficult to foresee Arsenal’s late recovery against Anderlecht in Brussels, where they had trailed 1-0 in the final two minutes. But goals from Kieran Gibbs and Lukas Podolski manufactured a stunning turnaround and allowed the club to reignite their Champions League hopes.
Wenger finished with six attack-minded players on the field and he talked afterwards of a “gambling situation” in which he somehow came up trumps. The drama went some way to making up for a generally uninspiring performance was pock-marked by errors and a defensive switch-off for the Anderlecht goal.
“I know by experience that the nerves play a part in the last five minutes in the Champions League,” Wenger said. “And that we had to get into those five minutes without conceding the second goal. If they had scored the second goal, it was game over. I had hope. It didn’t look likely but it happened. 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 game and it worked tonight. It did not look obvious, that is for sure.
“The turning point was not to concede the second goal. They had a good chance that they didn’t take and, in the end, the quality of the players who came on and our experience made the difference, unexpectedly. As long as we didn’t concede the second goal, I thought we had a chance to take at least a point.
“It’s a bit unexpected to take the three, considering the quality of the match that Anderlecht played.”
Wenger was asked whether he gave credit for his team’s spirit or was worried about the overall performance. “Both,” he replied. “We had the spirit but it was disappointing that we didn’t create more. I put that down to the fact that Anderlecht defended very well.”
Podolski entered as an 83rd-minute substitute and the timing of his first goal of the season could hardly have been better. “He is frustrated and I understand that,” Wenger said of the forward’s lack of playing time. “But we know he can always score. It took him a while to get back to a good physical level [after the World Cup] and now, he’s nearly there. It’s not a coincidence that he has over 100 caps for Germany. He is a guy who you want to have the ball in the box.”