IRAEUS, Dec 9 – Arsenal's young guns failed to fire Wednesday as they slipped to a solitary goal defeat at Olympiakos in their final Champions League Group H pool encounter to take the Greeks through.Having already wrapped up the group in taking 13 points from their opening five matches, Gunners’ coach Arsene Wenger sent out a clutch of 10 teenagers as well as fit-again Theo Walcott, a comparative veteran at 20.
The ‘Gooner babes’ included 18-year-old debutant Thomas Cruise, Jack Wilshire, Kyle Bartley, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Francis Coquelin as Wenger pinned youthful colours to the mast, resting established names such as Cesc Fabregas.
In contrast to their English Premiership visitors, Olympiakos, missing injured English forward Matt Derbyshire, had to go all out for a third home win in chasing runners-up spot and keep Standard Liege at bay in the battle for a spot in the last 16.
Needing a point to stay ahead of the Belgians, the Greek champions, coached by Brazilian Zico, welcomed back fit-again defenders Leonardo and Avraam Papadopoulos.
And after a first half of tentative sparring – Walcott going close in the tenth minute after good work by Alexandre Song – the hosts stepped up the pressure to take the lead just two minutes after the restart, Leonardo firing home left-footed past Gunners’ keeper Lukas Fabianski.
Fabianski had earlier done well to smother a rare effort on target from Konstantinos Mitroglou.
Having got their noses in front the Greeks, with their ten points effectively in their pockets, were able to relax and Arsenal thereafter kept to damage limitation – not that that worried Wenger unduly after an opportunity to give so many fringe players a European run-out.
"We had a positive attitude – they tried to catch us on the break but it was down to a lack of experience not quality," Wenger told the BBC. I am happy with the performance," he insisted.