Experience will boost youngsters says Wenger

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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger has no doubts his young Gunners will have grown from their "big jump" into the Champions League, despite going down 1-0 to Olympiacos after a battling display during last night's final Group H clash in Athens.

The Greeks progressed 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 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 veteran Mikael Silvestre, 32, in central defence.

Wales international Aaron Ramsey, meanwhile, impressed in the role of midfield playmaker filled so well by rested captain Cesc Fabregas.

Indeed, with 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.

"From Barnet to Athens is a big jump, but they did very well," said the Arsenal manager, who will now recall his rested first-team regulars for Sunday's crucial Barclays Premier League trip to Liverpool.

"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, 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 Olympiacos 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 or CSKA Moscow.

Wenger said: "I cannot influence the draw. There are still some teams I would prefer to others, of course - but if you ask me which teams, I will not answer."

Olympiacos coach Zico praised the role which their fanatical home support had played in securing safe progress through to the last 16.

The Brazilian said: "We are pleased for our fans that the team made it.

"It was a good performance.

"We tried to win the game from the beginning and we played well.

"Our fans should enjoy this victory and that we qualified, because they deserve it from the strength they gave us during the game."

Zico added: "We really believe that next year will be a better one and our fans will be able to enjoy much better performances."