Nothing is unthinkable on a European away night

"It wasn't the result that Arsenal deserved but it was what they needed right now" - Jim Gordon

It all happened in the blink of an eye, didn't it? Ten minutes before Kieran Gibbs' world class equalizer after a brilliant Calum Chambers cross, Belgian international Anthony Vanden Borre has a wonderful opportunity to put Belgian upstarts Anderlecht 2-0 up with a little over ten minutes remaining - fortunately, all the right back could do was fluffed his chance off the bar and then saw Andy Najar drill the rebound into the side netting. Yes, Arsenal were just THAT close to going 2-0 down late on and unlikely to score three in the final ten minutes...but football has a funny way of doing the unthinkable.

After Gibbs' brilliant volley, a stoppage time winner came by way of the happy-go-lucky but not so content Lukas Podolski after Sanchez's cross deflected in the box and fell to the German less than six yards out with only the keeper to blast it past. The final score read 2-1 Arsenal and we headed back to London with all three points - yes, in the end that is all that matters, but perhaps you shouldn't look at it in such simple terms when push comes to shove.
Kieran Gibbs celebrates his brilliantly struck equalizer - it, along with Anthony Vanden Borre's miss, flipped the match on it's head...but it should never have come to that (image courtesy of the official Facebook page of the UEFA Champions League)
Truthfully, inches do win matches and at the end of the day, football is about winning matches, but if you're honest with yourselves, we were poor and no we should not have taken all three points. Anyone that will sit there and tell you that Anderlecht are not worthy or more akin to a pub side really doesn't do the side or themselves any credit - the Belgian side can call on the likes of the immensely talented Youri Tielemans, the craft of Dennis Praet, Andy Najar's pace and trickery, Steven Defour's grit and leadership and a general nature of hard work, desire and youthful exuberance that makes Anderlecht a more formidable opponent than most want to discuss. Are they in the same class as Arsenal? No, surely not and no one can ever claim anything of the sort, but the first 87-minutes of the match showed just how close the young purple upstarts came to shocking the very foundations of the Arsenal fan-base.

At the end of the day, Anderlecht did not find the critical second goal and our European experience and talent kicked in when it mattered most...the final four minutes of the match. While at the end of the day we are all happy to be sitting comfortably in second in the group (despite the likelihood of a round of 16 clash with a European giant), we still need to ask questions...a lot of questions. While Sean and I will probably continue to disagree (haha) about the quality of yesterday's opponent, Sean and I will also agree on the state of which the team currently sits - once again, we were not good enough, and other than the performances of Sanchez and Gibbs, we were abysmally poor.
Even Nick Clegg does such a wonderful job in conveying the collective feelings on last night's result - thanks Nick
Arsene Wenger's press conference in the post-match came with an interesting bit from Le Prof. While the gaffer will have himself (and many others) that our spirit saw us through, I am going to have to disagree. We could have very easily lost this match, and in truth, while we did incredibly well to fight back at the end, the truth of the matter is that it was Anderlecht's lack of mental strength that saw them lose all the points. Perhaps even more significant is the notion of the question being posed to the tune of "What if this was not Anderlecht...what if this was Dortmund, Bayern, Real, Barca?" - said question was seen all over Twitter and Facebook, with many Gooners recognizing the importance of the three points, but not being under any illusions of just how poor we were.

There are many times were certain things can fall on the blame on the manager. That is not to say that people hate the man (though some certainly seem to these days), but the headmaster is usually the first point of contact for many when things do not go as planned - I can honestly say tonight that I do not think Wenger can shoulder the blame. I will admit that I was rather put off by the XI we fielded, but it's the performance of the players on the whole that was the biggest issue of all. Lacking enthusiasm, cutting-edge, often being outworked in many areas of the pitch and seemingly bereft of desire, this must fall on the players.  

Many will say that it's up to the manager to motivate his players on the touchline or in the dressing room during the break; we did come out a little stronger in the second half after a woeful performance in the first 45minutes, but if the manager is not going to push you on from the touchline ( Wenger often does not), then the players certainly must dig deep.
For better or worse, Alexis Sanchez has been our most inspired player this season.   One can only hope his performances will rub off on the rest of the squad (image courtesy of Arsenal's official Facebook page)
So often, and for many years now, Arsenal seem to lack the aforementioned qualities that we need to show consistently - for me, this comes down to a lack of real leadership on the pitch. We rarely have players who want to lead by either example, words or both. Sanchez put in another brilliant all around display yesterday from the first minute till the last, but it was not till the 88th minute that we finally showed a will to win...where was this for the first 87minutes? All to often, it seems as though we do not start playing until we have to - sure it's impressive that we have a strong track record of storming back into matches, but against top quality sides, that'll never cut the mustard (see any of our recent pastings against sides of note). It's an area we must improve in, and it's hard to see us being a contender in any competition until we learn to take a match by the scruff of the neck from kick-off till the final whistle.

Perhaps Jim Gordon put it best. A loss last night and we were potentially in a bit of quick sand, but the win see's us just three points away from being all but assured of our passage into the knockout stages. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't efficient but it was in fact a win, one that hopefully puts a little more confidence in the players and gives us a platform to hopefully build on moving forward.

All in all, we can all agree that football is fluid, ever changing, and possesses the ability produce moments where surely you'd think it could never be. For much of the match, the unthinkable was that Anderlecht as going to steal all three points. Once the Belgians went 1-0 and then spurned their glorious chance to make it two to the good, the unthinkable was that they would walk way with nothing. Many of us are likely to remain divided on so many issues and the unfortunate truth is that a performance and a result such as last night's will do nothing but exacerbate the divide, but we can all certainly agree that we're all grateful that the unthinkable shined down on us during a frustrating night in Brussels.