Wenger happy to give Arsenal's youth a spin in Greek cauldron

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The Independent Online

The freedom in which Arsenal can conclude their Group F campaign at Olympiakos tonight is a measure of their progress from turbulent beginnings this season but Arsène Wenger is still keen to ensure his team do not arrive in Greece merely to bear gifts.

Having arrived here with nothing at stake and the group won, the Arsenal manager is expected to ring the changes yet retain a stronger presence than their last visit to Athens in remarkably similar circumstances.

Two years ago, Arsenal travelled to the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium with qualification assured but their opponents' fate uncertain. Wenger picked the youngest side fielded in Champions League history, yet produced a spirited display in a 1-0 defeat.

A combination of fringe players and promising youngsters are likely to comprise the starting XI as Wenger attempts to maintain the club's current momentum while, to a lesser extent, protecting the integrity of the competition given any of Olympiakos, Marseilles and Dortmund could join Arsenal in the last 16. Wenger, who takes charge of his 200th European match tonight, said: "I know we have a big responsibility and I would be very disappointed if our winning attitude was not completely right."

The Greek champions are desperate to reach the knockout stage for the third successive season but the serenity of Arsenal's advancement will give Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain among others the chance to gain experience.

After a chastening debut in August's 8-2 defeat at Manchester United, the 18-year-old subsequently became the youngest English goalscorer in the Champions League after scoring in Arsenal's 2-1 home win over Olympiakos. Wenger is convinced the former Southampton winger will be undaunted by the intimidating atmosphere created by around 30,000 fans.

"I believe it is another opportunity for him to show that he can do that away from home and I am confident he will," said Wenger. "He is a similar type of character to Emmanuel Frimpong because once he is on the pitch, he is not scared of anybody."

Frimpong continues his convalescence from an anterior cruciate knee injury that sidelined him throughout last season and the Ghana-born 19-year-old admitted last night to doubts he would ever play for the club. "I knew I would come back to playing football but I felt I was never going to get a chance at Arsenal again," he said.

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