By Rob Kelly in Athens
Arsenal’s rising stars step into the unknown tonight. Having made a blistering start to both the domestic season and their NextGen Series campaign, they now must go to the next level. Their task is simple: to win on foreign soil for the first time.
The trip to Greece to face Olympiacos is what this elite competition is all about, giving the Club’s most promising youngsters the chance to travel, train and play against the best of the best.
It is designed to help them prepare for the rigours of European competition and a future in the Champions League, and their first away game is the perfect example. Terry Burton’s side play tonight in the 32,000-seater Georgios Karaiskákis stadium, the venue that will also host Arsenal’s final Champions League Group B match in December.
It is unchartered territory for all except one player: Nico Yennaris.
“I was fortunate enough to be on the bench for the first team's game at Olympiacos in the Champions League last year, so I have some knowledge of the stadium,” the 19-year-old told Arsenal.com.
“We travelled the night before to Greece, so obviously it was different to what I had been used to in the reserves and the academy.
“The whole experience was great from start to finish. When we got to the stadium the atmosphere was amazing, it was so loud. It was something different, it was European football and it was great to be part of.
“It was a good taster for me, and I hope to [play in those games] week in, week out. The hunger is definitely there after that.”
Expect the rest of the NextGen squad to be infused with similar enthusiasm after tonight’s match. The sense of excitement within the travelling party is palpable as they prepare for a fresh challenge in their embryonic careers.
“Going away and playing games abroad is very different,” Yennaris said. “The fans can be quite hostile towards you, so it will be good for the guys to see what it is like.
“In England everyone knows what to expect, but when you’re abroad the fans are on you during the game - it will be a real learning curve for our team. It will be interesting to see how they deal with that.
“The weather will be warmer too, so we might have to slow down our game and be a bit smarter in how we go about things. If it is very hot, you can't play at 100mph all the time. It will be a good test for us.”
Having beaten Marseille 3-0 in their opening match, there is a sense of determination with the Arsenal squad about tonight’s game. Momentum must be maintained.
“We set the bar high against Marseille, and we have high expectations,” Yennaris said. “It was good to be captain for that game - it’s always great to get that responsibility. I feel like I am a senior player in this team, so it is good for me to help the younger lads.
“We knew it would be a different type of game against Marseille, as we were playing against a European team, but I thought we did really well.
“We all believe that we can do well in this competition. We have a good team and we want to show that against Olympiacos.”
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