Thu, Nov 06, 2014 - Page 20 News List

Gunners blow three-goal lead against Anderlecht

AFP, LONDON

Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck, center, is fouled by RSC Anderlecht’s Chancel Mbemba, right, in their UEFA Champions League Group D match in London, England, on Tuesday.

Photo: Reuters

Arsene Wenger launched a scathing attack on his Arsenal flops after they blew a three-goal lead in a 3-3 draw against RSC Anderlecht that left them still waiting to book their place in the UEFA Champions League round-of-16.

Wenger’s side were on course to qualify for the knockout stages of Europe’s elite club competition for the 15th successive season after Mikel Arteta’s penalty and fine strikes from Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain put them in complete control by the 58th minute, but the Gunners’ creaky defense was brutally exposed by Anderlecht in a remarkable finale that saw the unheralded Belgian side score three times in the last 29 minutes through Anthony Vanden Borre’s double and Aleksandar Mitrovic’s stoppage-time header.

Wenger was furious with the way his players squandered their advantage.

“We had a poor defensive performance from the first until the last minute. We never looked comfortable and we got punished,” Wenger said. “There was a bit of bad luck because their first goal was clearly offside, but we never looked good enough defensively. Across the pitch we were very poor. It was a combination of fatigue and switching off. We dropped off and were always open. We didn’t stop the crosses or the long balls.”

“It is very disappointing. Maybe subconsciously we underestimated Anderlecht at 3-0,” he said. “In the Champions League you need to be at your best mentally and we weren’t today.”

The woeful meltdown leaves Arsenal with virtually no chance of finishing top of Group D — which was Wenger’s original target — and instead they face a fraught fight just to reach the knockout stages.

They hold a five-point lead over third-placed Anderlecht, but host group leaders Borussia Dortmund on Nov. 26 knowing a defeat against the German side would send them to Galatasaray needing a result in a notoriously hostile environment.

“We have very little chance of winning the group,” said Wenger, whose team are five points behind Dortmund. “The luck we have is with the qualification, we still have a chance. If we had lost tonight we would have been in a very bad situation with qualification.”

To make the evening extra frustrating for Wenger he is likely to be without captain Arteta for several weeks after the Spanish midfielder was forced off with a hamstring injury.

“Arteta has done a hamstring. I don’t know for how long he will be out,” Wenger added.

While Wenger refused to single out any of his players for public criticism, he will be alarmed at the ease with which Anderlecht troubled fullbacks Kieran Gibbs and Calum Chambers, while neither Per Mertesacker or Nacho Monreal looked comfortable at the heart of a defense given little protection by the Arsenal manager’s decision to send out an attacking lineup including only one holding midfielder in Arteta.

“Our aim now is to come back with a better defensive display against Swansea [City] at the weekend,” Wenger said.

Wenger’s angst was perhaps behind his failure to shake hands with Anderlecht boss Besnik Hasi at fulltime, but Hasi refused to dwell on that, preferring to salute his players for a Herculean effort that kept alive his team’s slender hopes of reaching the round-of-16.

“I didn’t get a hand [from Wenger], but I don’t know [why]. I was running with my players to celebrate,” Hasi said. “I don’t think we were lucky. I don’t know if the first goal was offside. I really don’t care. I’m very satisfied with the spirit of my young team. In difficult moments they showed their character and quality.”

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