Arsenal’s youngsters succumbed to defeat against Olympiakos but could take much heart in the performance with Aaron Ramsey standing out.
It was perhaps a measure of the youngsters’ abilities that Olympiakos entered the encounter with the same mind frame as against the senior side earlier in the competition. That time two late goals secured the win for Arsenal and despite still needing a point to go through this time round, the Grecians sat back even on their home turf and looked to exploit gaps from transitions.
As it was, an early second half goal sealed the win for Olympiakos, a quick break was momentarily halted by Kyle Bartley but the ball found its way to Leonardo to burst through and score. More than a lack of experience was displayed in the goal; Bartley not quite timing the execution nor the power in the tackle while Kerea Gilbert was not quick enough to read the situation and cover for the centre backs.
But Arsenal’s youngsters will have found plenty of reasons to be cheerful. It was a performance of much confidence on the ball as Arsene Wenger’s side – who became the Champions League’s youngest ever team with an average age of 21 – competed manfully against a journeymen opposition. It was Arsenal’s ruthlessness and dynamism up front however, that let them down as the side’s relative disorganisation was expected. They never quite fashioned a guilt edge goalscoring opportunity in the first period, finding it difficult to open an Olympiakosside who stuck deep with two banks of four. With wide men who like to come inside, Arsenal was crowded out and with the substitution of Wilshere did the Gunners find a bit of light.
The Stevenage born midfielder seems slightly stuck in transition. At the club since the age of nine, he was brought up in the classic Arsene Wenger pass and move style best suited to a 4-4-2 seems slightly inhibited starting higher up. The opposition defending as deep didn’t help but Wilshere is a player who thrives on movement and dragging defenders out, usually starting from deeper and progressing forward. It is possible in the 4-3-3 but a system designed specifically to meet the needs of the current senior team has the player in a soul searching position.
It was in central midfield where Arsenal most greatly shone as Aaron Ramsey proved the catalyst in driving the team forward. The Welshman was substituted during half-time in the defeat to Sunderland and he clearly had his manager’s advice ringing in his ears. His concentration and decision-making were of a higher level which invariably had a positive effect on his passing range. The highlight, a fantastically weighted pass with the outside of his boot to split open the defence which nearly got Walcott through on goal. Alongside Merida and Song, the trio displayed great assurance on the ball and were pinging triangles across the park. “Overall,” said Wenger. “We looked like a team that play every week in this competition, the young players played exactly like the first team. It’s difficult to single out individual performances, although Ramsey had a good presence, gave good balls and had a good work rate.”