Arsenal victory papers over the cracks

Defender Kieran Gibbs and substitute forward Lukas Podolski scored in the final two minutes

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Arsenal’s dramatic 2-1 Champions League win against Anderlecht on Wednesday rescued three valuable points but the victory only served to paper over the ever-widening cracks.

Defender Kieran Gibbs and substitute forward Lukas Podolski scored in the final two minutes to dress up what had been another exceedingly underwhelming and lethargic Arsenal Champions League performance.

They were castigated for a 2-0 defeat by Borussia Dortmund in their opening Group D game and although they easily beat Galatasaray at home, their performance in Brussels will do little to win over those who say Arsenal are below the level of the European elite.

In what was a relatively kind Group D draw for Arsenal, they are distinctly second best behind a depleted Dortmund side who have won just twice and lost five times in a horror start to their domestic Bundesliga campaign.

The German side have nine points from three group games, three ahead of Arsenal.

Arsenal should reach the knockout rounds for a 12th consecutive season, but it will probably be as runners-up, meaning their chances of surviving to the quarter-finals for the first time in five seasons would be diminished.

Former Arsenal midfielder, and now Sky Sports pundit, Paul Merson said he feared what might happened if Arsenal, in their current form, were to meet one of the fancied sides.

“Arsenal will have to beat Dortmund by three clear goals at home (to win the group and earn an easier last 16 tie) and I can’t see that happening,” Merson said.

“You expect a team to fight until the end. You don’t expect them to give up, but to be fair they nearly did.

“Anderlecht had three or four clear chances and let’s be honest a good team will have scored them. If Arsenal had been playing Real Madrid tonight they would have lost 6-0 or 7-0.

“Arsene will say we did well, we beat Anderlecht 2-1, but Arsenal fans at home will watch Real Madrid’s highlights and think it’s lucky we weren’t playing them because it would have been six or seven.” Their tepid and limp displays have not been limited to the Champions League.

In the Premier League Arsenal have won just two of eight games, one of which was a last-minute 2-1 win against Crystal Palace on the opening day, collecting 11 points from a possible 24 in the process. Last Saturday they needed a last-minute equaliser by Danny Welbeck to draw 2-2 at home with Hull City.

However, thanks to Podolski, Wenger could smile on his 65th birthday and he was full of praise for the German who has been relegated to the bench of late.

“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,” Wenger said.

Merson was less optimistic.

“The all round picture over the season is no way will that be good enough in a million years,” he added.

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