ARSENE WENGER praised the efforts of his young Gunners after they went down 1-0 to Olympiakos following a battling display in last night’s final Champions League Group H clash in Athens.
The Greeks went through to the knockout stages as runners-up to Arsenal, who named the youngest side to play in the Champions League with an average age of just 21.
With safe passage already to the last 16 already secured before last night, Wenger chose to rest most of his first-team regulars – with 18-year-old left-back Tom Cruise handed a debut and reserve captain Kyle Bartley playing alongside veteran Mikael Silvestre, 32, in central defence.
Wales international Aaron Ramsey impressed in the role of midfield playmaker. Indeed, but for some better finishing from England forward Theo Walcott – fit again following a hamstring problem – and the wasteful Carlos Vela, Arsenal’s youngsters would have taken something from the game.
Wenger said: “I am very proud of the young players, there are a lot of positives. Nobody was disappointing, and it is difficult to single out individual performances, although Ramsey had a good presence, gave good balls and produced a good work-rate.
“They all looked like they played every week in this competition.
“I had the performance I expected, but not the result we could have got.
“These youngsters play exactly like the first team, and they represented Arsenal well tonight, despite the fact that they are the youngest team to have played in the Champions League.”
Leonardo’s goal at the start of the first half proved enough to give the home side victory, but Arsenal had chances, notably through Vela, to get themselves back into the game.
Wenger continued: “I expected to suffer more than we did tonight.
“We got caught on the counter-attack when we came out of the dressing room, but after had at least two clear chances to come back.
“Then it became more difficult, as Olympiakos played a safe game and we lacked composure in the final third.”
The Gunners will be seeded in the draw for the knockout stages later this month, which could yet see them face off against the likes of Inter Milan, Lyon, Stuttgart, Bayern Munich, AC Milan, CSKA Moscow and Porto.
Wenger said: “I cannot influence the draw. There are, though, still some teams I would prefer to others of course – but if you ask me which teams, I will not answer.”
OLYMPIAKOS: Nikopolidis, Galitsios, Avraam Papadopoulos, Mellberg, Raul Bravo, Galletti, Dudu (Domi 86), Maresca, Leonardo, Oscar (Pantos 90), Mitroglou.
ARSENAL: Fabianski, Gilbert, Bartley, Silvestre, Cruise, Ramsey, Song Billong, Merida, Walcott, Wilshere (Sunu 77), Vela.
Referee: Lucilio Cardoso Cortez Batista (Portugal).
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