Wenger gives youth a run with pressure off
The freedom in which Arsenal can conclude their Group F campaign in Olympiakos tonight is a measure of their progress from turbulent beginnings this season, but Arsene Wenger is nevertheless keen to ensure his team do not arrive in Greece merely to bear gifts.
Having come here with nothing at stake given their unassailable position as group winners, 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 their qualification assured but their opponents' fate uncertain. Wenger selected 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 that any of Olympiakos, Marseille and Dortmund could join Arsenal in the last 16.
"It is not about who we left at home, it is who we will play that is important," said Wenger, who will take charge of his 200th European match this evening.
"I know we have a big responsibility and I would be very disappointed if our winning attitude was not completely right. I will make sure we walk out there with immense desire to try and win the game."
A hostile atmosphere awaits, with the Greek champions desperate to progress to the knockout stage for the third successive season, but the serenity produced by Arsenal's advancement will give Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain among others the chance to gain valuable experience.
The 18-year-old is yet to start a match away from home but Wenger is convinced the former Southampton winger will be undaunted by the intimidating environment.
"I believe it is another opportunity for him to show what 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 and they give it all."
Frimpong continues his convalescence from the anterior cruciate knee injury that sidelined him for the entirety of last season and the Ghanaian-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. "But in football, you can't predict anything and when I came back I carried on from where I left off and I have got my chance again."
Olympiakos, who went top of the Greek Super League last weekend, will qualify with victory if Marseille fail to win in Dortmund, and a draw could even be enough depending on the result in Germany.
Today is the Feast of St Nicholas in Greece, a nationwide event that marks the formal beginning of the festive season; present giving may be en vogue but Arsenal insist they are not in the mood. (© Independent News Service)
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