By Rob Kelly at Underhill
On a frustrating night in north London, Arsenal were held to a goalless draw by a stubborn Olympiacos side in the NextGen Series.
Terry Burton’s side controlled the game, and while they passed the ball superbly at times, chances were at a premium until the end when things opened up.
Serge Gnabry went close on three separate occasions, while Chuba Akpom also had two decent opportunities - but neither player was able to break the deadlock.
And in the 90th minute they were nearly made to pay as Nikos Ioannidis raced on to a long ball and, with Reice Charles-Cook stranded, curled the ball just wide from a tight angle.
A late goal would have been harsh on Arsenal, who were left to rue what might have been.
Burton made four changes to the side that had lost 2-0 to the Greeks at the Georgios Karaiskákis Stadium last month. Hector Bellerin’s suspension for his red card in Athens meant Alfred Mugabo was brought into the backline, while Anthony Jeffrey made way for Thomas Eisfeld.
Elsewhere, Isaac Hayden and Kyle Ebecilio dropped to the bench and were replaced by Jon Toral and Kristoffer Olsson - both of whom had missed the trip to Athens.
Olympiacos, meanwhile, made three changes to their side, with goalkeeper Eleftherios Choutesiotis being replaced by Aristeidis Vlachos. There was no place either for Dimitris Rikspun or Gino Klodian, with their places being taken by Dimitrios Voutsiotis and Rafail Soukias respectively.
Arsenal played up the Underhill slope in the first half, and finding a way past the visitors’ stubborn defence proved to be an uphill battle in itself. The game in Athens had been characterised by a lack of clear-cut cha ces for Burton’s side and the opening exchanges followed a similar pattern.
The hosts dominated possession, and passed it around nicely, but time and time again saw the final ball find the outstretched foot of an Olympiacos defender.
Still, Kristoffer Olsson and Serge Gnabry proved influential figures, the former’s awareness of space and clever passing particularly pleasing on the eye. The latter has been desribed by Arsene Wenger as “a great hope for the future” and it was easy to see why, his direct running and quick feet causing all manner of problems.
Probably the best chance of the first half fell to Gnabry, as Jon Toral - another creative force - slid a pass between two Olympiacos defenders for the winger to run on to. The German youth international raced behind the defence but found the angle had narrowed, and drilled his low shot narrowly wide of the far post.
When they could get hold of the ball, Olympiacos were able to show their own passing game and were able to stretch the hosts backline on occasion. However, their best effort came direct from the boot of Charalampos Lykogiannis, whose 25-yard free kick was pushed around the post by Reice Charles-Cook.
From the resulting corner, the Greek side nearly bundled the ball home at the near post, but the Arsenal goalkeeper snaffled the ball in the nick of time. Soon afterwards, Gnabry hit the wall with a free kick and Toral dragged his follow-up effort narrowly wide.
The start of the second half was much the same for the hosts, although Toral came desperately close to breaking the deadlock with a chipped effort that hit the post in the 55th minute.
Soon afterwards, Toral won the applause of the Underhill crowd after chasing back in midfield before sliding in and taking the ball of the foot of Lyras. Eisfeld stole in and burst through the middle, and slid in Akpom but the young striker fired over the bar.
Arsenal were pressing in search of a late winner and they came so close in the 76th minute as Martin Angha’s cross was cleared straight to Gnabry in the area. The 17-year-old took a touch to steady himself, but curled his shot just wide of the far post. Agonising.
Minutes later Anthony Jeffrey did well to dig out a cross from the right corner flag and Isaac Hayden rushed in but his diving header was well saved by Aristeidis Vlachos.
Gnabry went close with two powerful long-range strikes within 60 seconds of each other, but still they could find no way through.
There was nearly a sting in he tail in the 90th minute as Ioannidis raced through, took the ball away from Charles-Cook to the left of the area and nearly curled the ball into the far corner.
But it was not to be and Burton’s side had to settle for a share of the spoils.
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