UEFA Youth League
Olympiacos 2 Arsenal 0
Arsenal U19s suffered a disappointing defeat away to their Olympiacos counterparts in their final UEFA Youth League group stage fixture this evening, but still progressed to the knockout stages of the competition.
Andries Jonker’s side lacked attacking intent today until the introduction of schoolboy Reiss Nelson, but will take their place in the Play-off round of the competition, where they could come up against Ajax or Celtic in a single-legged tie in February.
Arsenal were overrun by Olympiacos in the first-half, with the Greek side establishing a two-goal lead courtesy of strikes from Giorgos Manthatis and Dimosthenis Chantzaras.
Arsenal welcomed back Krystian Bielik and Dan Crowley from injury, but didn’t register an attempt on target until the 54th minute and, although the young Gunners improved after the interval, Olympiacos fully merited the victory.
Kaylen Hinds started in a deep-lying midfield position, with Donyell Malen on the right wing. Ismael Bennacer wasn’t in the squad.
Subs: Nelson (for C. Willock), Mourgos (for Crowley), Robinson (for M. Bola). Not used: Huddart, Moore, Eyoma, Da Graca.
Arsenal sought to make an impression from the outset, with Crowley attempting an audacious pass with the outside of his boot which failed to find a team-mate.
It wasn’t long before Olympiacos were ahead, however, with Manthatis applying the finishing touch to a neat passing move to make it 1-0 in the 11th minute.
Arsenal looked to respond as Marc Bola galloped forwards from left-back and delivered a teasing cross into the penalty area. His ball in eluded Mavididi, whilst Malen, stretching at the far post, could only shoot over.
Arsenal were guilty of being overly intricate at times, never more so than when Crowley needlessly lost possession in the 37th minute, with Olympiacos eventually working the ball towards Chantzaras, who sent his effort beyond the reach of Hugo Keto.
Crowley attempted to make amends not long afterwards as he quickly exchanged passes with Chris Willock before shooting just wide of the far post.
The midfielder, who certainly wasn’t at his sharpest, then delivered a corner, with captain Julio Pleguezuelo heading over in the final action of the first-half.
Olympiacos were well organised defensively, to the extent that it took Arsenal until well into the second period before they had a shot on target, and even then it wasn’t a significant effort, with Ben Sheaf’s free-kick being comfortably gathered.
The hosts continued to provide an attacking threat of their own, but Arsenal gradually started to improve going forwards, particularly following the introduction of Nelson.
Not everything that the England youth international attempted came to fruition, but at least the winger, who turns 16 tomorrow, helped to inject a sense of urgency into the side.
Nelson had a shot saved but the flag had already been raised for offside, with Savvas Mourgos then entering the fray in his home country in place of the tiring Crowley.
Arsenal’s best moment came in the dying embers of proceedings, with Stephy Mavididi, who had been isolated up front, sending a powerful effort over the crossbar.
In the end Arsenal still managed to qualify despite their defeat and their European adventure will continue in February, with the draw for the Play-off round set to be made on Monday.
The lack of ingenuity in Arsenal’s performance today was rather concerning, and it is a little worrying how the young Gunners dropped off in the group after making such a stellar start.
However, it is a major positive that they have managed to qualify and Jonker will still be helpful of guiding his side further in the competition, particularly when it is taken into account that Jeff Reine-Adelaide, who didn’t play a single minute in the group stages, should be involved when the knockout phases get underway.