By Max Jones at Rentis Training Ground
Arsenal Under-19s’ hopes of reaching the last 16 of the Uefa Youth League hang in the balance after they lost 2-0 against Olympiacos on Wednesday.
The Gunners now have to win a one-legged play-off fixture in February against a European under-19 title-winning side, whose identity will be determined in the draw on Monday.
Olympiacos took an early lead when Georgios Manthatis sprinted into the box to poke home from close range, and Dimosthenis Chantzaras doubled the hosts’ advantage with a composed finish before the break.
Arsenal did threaten back after the interval through Daniel Crowley and Donyell Malen, but Dimitrios Katsimitros was equal to their attempts at the end of a frustrating evening for the Gunners.
SETTING THE SCENE
Andries Jonker made four changes to the side that lost 2-1 against Dinamo Zagreb last month for Wednesday’s group decider in Athens.
After impressing in Friday’s FA Youth Cup victory against West Bromwich Albion, Ben Sheaf replaced Aaron Eyoma at right back while Krystian Bielik came in at the heart of defence for Stefan O’Connor, who joined York City on loan two weeks ago.
Elsewhere, Crowley replaced Reiss Nelson in midfield and, having scored the under-19s’ late consolation last time out, Stephy Mavididi led the Gunners’ exciting front line. Tafari Moore started the game on the bench.
Following Bayern’s shock 1-0 victory against Zagreb earlier that afternoon, Jonker’s side knew at least a point would guarantee top spot in Group F and secure their place in the last 16. A defeat, however, would see them face a one-legged qualification tie to reach the next stage of the tournament.
The game began at a frantic pace, with both sides eager to play direct, attacking football, and it did not take long before a familiar face gave the hosts an early lead.
Arsenal were coping well with Olympiacos patiently probing on the edge of their box, but then Manthatis - who scored the opener in the reverse tie - burst into life, combining with Qazim Laci to lose his man and prod into the far corner.
The Gunners were shocked into action and soon started to get a foothold on the game, but then suffered another hammer blow. Emmanouil Saliakas collected Crowley’s loose ball and threaded an inch-perfect through ball to Chantzaras, who coolly slotted past Hugo Keto.
Julio Pleguezuelo did have a chance to pull one back from Sheaf’s corner on the stroke of half-time but the captain could not direct his header on target, as Jonker’s side went into the second half with a mountain to climb.
Olympiacos looked sharper after the restart and soon carved out their first opportunity. After Chantzaras had tested the Gunners’ back four with a dangerous set-piece, Manthatis cut inside from the right flank and curled inches wide of the top corner.
Arsenal continued to battle back, though, and came close to scoring when Crowley twisted and turned past his man to cross, but Katsimitros smothered the playmaker’s low cross before the Mavididi could pounce.
Malen then threatened the Greek side’s defence when he sped past Dimitrios Nikolaou and drove towards goal but again Katsimitros got down well to save.
Arsenal continued to press for a late consolation but Olympiacos stood firm and ensured all three points remained in Athens. The Gunners have still qualified from the group stage, but they must wait until February for their next chance of reaching the last 16.
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