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Gunners squander three goal lead

GET IN: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain strikes for Arsenal

THERE WERE echoes of the 4-4 draw at Newcastle in 2011 as Arsenal threw away a three-goal lead at the Emirates this evening.

When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made it 3-0 with a confident swipe of his right foot on 58 minutes the Gunners appeared to be coasting into the second round with Borussia Dortmund, who were busy dispatching Galatasaray 4-1.

Yet by the time Aleksandar Mitrovic launched himself ahead of Per Mertesacker to plunder a late equaliser it felt both inevitable and deserved. It did not quite match Arsenal’s smash and grab in Brussels a fortnight ago but was equally dramatic.

The Gunners’ inability to see out this contest was another indictment of a squad in dire need of defensive and midfield reinforcements.

Arsene Wenger’s side can often mask those deficiencies against mid-ranking domestic and European opponents and when Mikel Arteta clipped home the opening goal from the penalty spot 25 minutes into this contest it hinted at being another of those occasions.

The hosts had weathered some early pressure for Anderlecht when Chancel Mbemba groped at Danny Welbeck and gave French referee Clement Turpin an easy decision.

Four minutes later it was 2-0 when Alexis Sanchez claimed his 11th goal of the season. The Chilean was felled on the edge of the visitors’ penalty area moments earlier with a driving run. His struck the resultant free-kick feebly into the wall but quickly atoned in drilling the rebound beyond Silvio Proto at his near post.

By that stage Arsenal appeared to be cruising and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s wonderful goal following and superb run and finish looked to be another coat of gloss on Arsenal’s progression to the last-16.

That feeling lasted three minutes. When former Portsmouth right-back Anthony Vanden Borre reduced the arrears the fact that he was about two yards offside in meeting Andy Kawaya’s biting cross did not prevent doubts beginning to emerge around a hesitant Emirates.

Underlining the Gunners’ defensive frailty is their need to play left-back Nacho Monreal at centre-back and there was real fear that he would be tested in his unfamiliar role.

To that end, Anderlecht and Vanden Borre succeeded where Sunderland and Burnley failed. Monreal slipped as he challenged Mitrovic in the Arsenal box but in its own way it was every bit as clumsy and ill-advised as Mbema’s earlier challenge and the Spaniard was lucky to escape greater censure than a yellow card.

Vanden Borre sent Wojciech Szczesny the wrong way for his second on the night and the comeback began to feel inevitable despite further chances falling to both sides.

Arteta, who was clutching his hamstring, had been replaced by Mathieu Flamini moments after Anderlecht’s first goal and the Frenchman did little to bolster his team.

When he was joined by fellow substitutes Lukas Podolski and Tomas Rosicky it seemed clear that a fourth goal offered the best hope of all three points. Instead the visitors claimed their third goal.

Group D qualification is still in Arsenal’s hands but few will give them much hope of going deep into this competition’s latter stages without significant reinforcements.

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