Arsenal vs Anderlecht report: Revenge for Anderlecht who come from 3-0 down to claim draw with Alexis Sanchez only bright spark

Arsenal 3 Anderlecht 3: The Gunners, who beat Anderlecht with two late goals in their previous meeting, had been cruising at 3-0 but ended up drawing the match

Arsenal can afford to be a one-man team in the Premier League but the Champions League is harder. Alexis Sanchez did his job last night, dragging Arsenal almost by himself into a 3-0 lead that would have ensured qualification for the last 16 with two games to go.

Sanchez’s team-mates, though, did not do theirs. They looked vulnerable even at 3-0 up and conceded three goals, the equaliser coming in added time. This comeback was far less undeserved than Arsenal’s was in Brussels two weeks ago.

Arsenal are still five points clear of third-placed Anderlecht and only need one point from their last two games to ensure qualification. But their target was to win Group D and that now looks extremely unlikely. They need to beat Dortmund by three goals here in three weeks’ time, then get a favour from a knocked-out Anderlecht. Another meeting with one of Europe’s big beasts in the new year awaits.

Having found some stability recently – two wins, two clean sheets – Arsène Wenger chose the same system for what he hoped would be a similarly easy evening. It meant Sanchez was liberated from the left wing to scurry freely wherever he saw fit.

It is not a surprising tactic – he is so obviously Arsenal’s best player – but it has certainly worked. Sanchez had scored twice in each of his last two games before this, and he started the first half with just as much confidence, energy and drive as anyone here could have hoped for.

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Sanchez scores his goal

 

If Arsenal’s approach play was occasionally ponderous and predictable, Sanchez was never either of those things. He had the first chance, an entirely individual act, as he swerved wide away from two defenders and drove a shot straight at the near post.

There were openings at both ends but Sanchez only played for Arsenal and soon enough they went 2-0 up. First it was Sanchez’s smart reverse pass through to Danny Welbeck, who got the wrong side of Chancel Mbemba and was brought down for a penalty. Mikel Arteta chipped it into the roof of the net.

The second goal was a remarkable three-part solo effort. Sanchez ran with the ball from deep, tearing away from Anthony vanden Borre, who eventually, desperately, tugged him down.

 

It was Sanchez who took the free-kick, from the edge of area, hitting it straight at Gohi Cyriac in front of him. But it was Sanchez, of course, who volleyed the ball straight back through the crumbling wall and into the bottom corner.

It was a thrilling performance and fortunately so because Sanchez’s team-mates were not playing particularly well. Arsenal had been very vulnerable on the break, with Anderlecht’s No 10 Dennis Praet – who had a trial at Arsenal as a teenager but was considered too weak – dangerous every time he got the ball. Wojciech Szczesny had to save from Sacha Kljestan, and Praet had a shot deflected behind by Callum Chambers, reminding Arsenal the game was not quite already won.

The supporting cast started the second half brightly. Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck made a chance that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hit at a defender. Then Ramsey skipped past Andy Najar and set up Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose cross was just a few inches too high for Welbeck.

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Mertesacker acknowledges the fans

 

And although it was Oxlade-Chamberlain who scored the third goal, it was Sanchez who made it possible. He slide-tackled a startled Kljestan on the left wing, before Oxlade-Chamberlain burst past Vanden Borre on the outside, swerved inside and finished into the far bottom corner.

That should have been that but Anderlecht pulled a goal back almost immediately. Half-time substitute Andy Kawaya darted down the left wing, past Chambers, and crossed low into the box. Vanden Borre was far offside but turned the ball in and it was allowed to stand.

The evening was changing, with momentum, noise and courage all on Anderlecht’s side. Aleksandar Mitrovic, a late substitute, was throwing his weight around and causing problems. When Anderlecht chipped a free-kick into the box, Mitrovic escaped from Nacho Monreal, who lost his footing and pulled him to the ground. Monreal was fortunate only to be booked and Vanden Borre sent Szczesny the wrong way from the spot.

Arsenal should have killed the game but it was very much alive and out of their control. Mitrovic sent a perfect cross from deep to Najar, which Kieran Gibbs headed over the bar. Frank Acheampong shot over from a good position.

Wenger threw on Tomas Rosicky and Lukas Podolski to see them through the final minutes but the tide was already against them. Najar swung in a cross from the right – facing not much opposition – and Mitrovic, whose contribution to this game almost matched that of Sanchez – ran across Per Mertesacker at the near post and thumped a diving header into the near bottom corner.

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