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Arsenal’s Podolski, Gibbs break Belgian hearts in left-for-late win

Belgium Soccer Champions League

Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla, left, and Anderlecht’s Steven Defour, right, head the ball during the Group D Champions League match between Anderlecht and Arsenal at Constant Vanden Stock Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, Wednesday Oct. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)


A snoozer pretty much from the opening kickoff, neither Anderlecht nor Arsenal could break through despite Alexis Sanchez’s best efforts.

Thrills were waiting, though, in Arsenal’s 2-1 win in UEFA Champions League group play on Wednesday night.

In the 71st minute, it was ex-DC United attacked Andy Najar who rose above the Arsenal back line to head home the game’s opening goal. Anderlecht was up 1-0 in Belgium, and the Gunners were in trouble.

But Kieran Gibbs rescued the visitors a pair of minutes from time, and Arsenal earned the full points when Lukas Podolski was in perfect position to blast a winner home inside the six-yard box in the 90th minute.

[RELATED: UCL news | Standings | Champions League schedule]

With Borussia Dortmund hammering Galatasaray to stay perfect in group play, Arsenal stays second in Group D with six points. Anderlecht stays with one, and sits in third.

Really, Anderlecht deserved better than its cruel fate, and should’ve led by more than one.

As for Sanchez, an argument could be made that the Chilean was the only Gunners attacker worth his salt in the first half, but fortunately for Arsenal they were facing a “down” Anderlecht side.

Sanchez nearly broke through after Santi Cazorla did the sam in the 64th minute. Cazorla’s shot was cleared before Sanchez blazed his shot from the 18 just over the bar.

United States international Sacha Kljestan was on the bench for the Belgian giants.

Arsenal carried possession, nearly two-thirds, for the most of the match but the shots were even (and just two had been on frame after an hour).

Then Dennis Praet sent in the cross that Najar nodded past 22-year-old keeper Emiliano Martinez, who was called into duty thanks to an injury to David Ospina and suspension of Wojciech Szczesny.

Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain subbed on in the 75th minute to try and inject some life into Arsenal, but Anderlecht nearly doubled its lead moments later. A low cross found no mate on the back post.

Moments later, they struck the post before Najar put the rebound off the side netting.

Yet Gibbs jetted in to bury an equalizer close to the death.

Follow @nicholasmendola