Arsenal go down fighting in Athens

Olympiacos 1 Arsenal 0
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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger's young Gunners put on a brave display but were defeated by Olympiacos in tonight's final Champions League Group H clash in Athens.

With safe passage to the last 16 already secured, 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 Mikael Silvestre, 32, in central defence.

It was, though, the display of Aaron Ramsey, still only 18 but already a full Wales international, which caught the eye, the teenager relishing in the role of midfield playmaker filled so well by rested captain Cesc Fabregas.

Indeed, but for some better finishing from England forward Theo Walcott - fit again following a hamstring problem - and the wasteful Mexican Carlos Vela, Arsenal's youngsters would have taken a deserved result from the game.

Ramsey, who saw a late effort cleared off the line, will probably be back on the bench when the Gunners head to Liverpool for Sunday's crunch Barclays Premier League clash - but on tonight's evidence, the young Welshman certainly had what it takes to compete at the highest level.

As expected, the atmosphere inside the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium was white hot as the passionate home support attempted to drag their team into the knockout stages.

It was, though, a bright start by the young Gunners, with an average age of 21 - and that boosted by the presence of veteran Silvestre.

On 10 minutes, Walcott dashed into the right side of the penalty area, but his rising shot was parried by keeper Antonis Nikopolidis.

Olympiacos broke quickly through Argentinean Luciano Galletti down the right, with Oscar Gonzalez touching the all off to Kostas Mitroglou - only for the Greek striker to fire over the crossbar.

Galletti volleyed wide at the far post following another swift counter by the hosts.

Walcott, though, continued to look menacing, and again burst into the area, this time on the left before being crowded out by two defenders.

However, Olympiacos took the lead at the start of the second half.

Bartley upended Oscar Gonzalez, but the referee played a good advantage as Leonardo latched onto the loose ball and dashed into the left side of the area before slotting through Lukasz Fabianski's legs to put the Greeks within sight of the knockout stage.

Arsenal should have equalised when Ramsey dashed clear down the Olympiacos left and to the edge of the 18-yard box before cleverly cutting a pass square to Vela - but the Mexican hit his shot straight at the keeper.

As the hour mark passed, to their credit the youngsters continued to take the game to the Greeks.

Ramsey's angled ball put Walcott in down the right, but Raul Bravo got across to make a timely block.

From the resulting corner, the Wales midfielder then failed to get any real power with his downward header at the far post.

Vela was again wasteful when slipped into the area by Merida, this time firing over the top with a first-time effort when he could have taken another touch.

Fabianski denied Leonardo a second with a fine reaction save as the Brazilian cut into the left side of the Arsenal box before.

On 76 minutes, Jack Wilshere, who looks set to go out on loan in January for more regular first-team football, was replaced by 18-year-old Frenchman Gilles Sunu - another from the impressive Arsenal academy production line.

Arsenal's youngsters continued to fight to the end, almost grabbing a late equaliser when Ramsey's close-range effort was cleared off the line following a corner, and will certainly have grown a bit wiser from the experience.