By Martyn Herman
IF Anderlecht are to have any realistic chance of prolonging their involvement in the Champions League beyond the group stage, a home win over Arsenal on Wednesday night is paramount.
The Belgium side are joint bottom of Group D with one point from their opening two games, two points behind Arsenal and five behind leaders Borussia Dortmund.
Arsenal are not firing on all cylinders, however, and Saturday’s 2-2 home draw with Hull City left Arsene Wenger’s side 11 points off the pace in the Premier League.
The London club are still formidable opponents, but if ever there was a good time to face the Gunners it might be when they are stretched with record signing Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud and Mathieu Debuchy injured and first-choice keeper Wojciech Szczesny suspended after his red card against Galatasaray.
Theo Walcott is on the verge of a return after a long-standing knee injury while Aaron Ramsey (hamstring) andJack Wilshere (knee) are slight doubts but should be available.
Reserve keeper David Ospina is also injured so third-choice Emiliano Martinez is expected to start for Arsenal.
Despite the injuries, midfielder Mathieu Flamini says there are no excuses for a moderate start to the season.
“We’re having injuries but we don’t want to hide behind any excuses,” said Flamini.
“We’re facing the truth – we didn’t win on Saturday and we’ll try to find a solution for the next games.”
While failure to reach the knockout rounds for the 12th consecutive season would represent failure for Arsenal, getting there would be a massive achievement for Anderlecht.
Since 2000-01 when they reached the now defunct second group stage, they have finished bottom of their group seven times, including last season when they managed a solitary point.
They also have failed to win any of their last 10 Champions League matches and were held 1-1 at Mechelen on Sunday, their fifth draw in 11 Belgium league matches this season.
Arsenal have also drawn five of their opening eight in the Premier League and Wenger was in a tetchy mood after two more points were dropped against Hull at the weekend.
Anderlecht manager Besnik Hasi believes both sides find themselves in a similar position.
“We find it difficult to win, and that worries me,” Hasi told Sporza website. “Wednesday against Arsenal expectations are high. They are doing the same as us but hopefully we can boost our level a bit.”
Steven Defour will be Anderlecht’s main attacking threat while the Belgian league leaders will hope that international defender Anthony Vanden Borre may be able to play some part after playing an hour for Belgium’s under-21s last week, having been sidelined with a calf injury.