Once an Arsenal Invincible, the ex-midfielder has been appointed as interim head coach while the club searches for a replacement for Unai Emery
It was a brief speech, lasting no longer than 60 seconds, but Freddie Ljungberg left the Arsenal squad knowing exactly what he wanted from them.
He wanted passion, desire and, most of all, he wanted unity.
The Swede had seen firsthand the damage that had been done by the breakdown in the relationship between Unai Emery and the majority his squad in recent weeks, both in terms of performances on the pitch and work around the training ground.
And so when he faced his players for the first time in the changing room at London Colney on Friday morning, Ljungberg wanted to make his point.
It was a point that was welcomed by those who were listening. Emery may not have had the respect of everyone in his changing room, but Ljungberg certainly does.
Wherever you go when you walk through the corridors at Arsenal’s training ground you see pictures from the club’s Arsene Wenger-inspired glory years and many include Ljungberg in his pomp, celebrating key goals or grasping some treasured silverware.
Arsenal now have an Invincible in charge and that alone demands respect.
But it’s not just what he achieved as a player that ensures the 42-year-old is held in high esteem by the current squad. Since his promotion to the first-team set-up in the summer from his role within the academy as under-23s boss, Ljungberg has become a hugely popular figure with the senior players who have been impressed with his coaching ability.
He is hands on, he is demanding but he is approachable. There is a connection there and the players want to hear from him and to learn from him. Whereas Emery would often keep his distance from the group, Ljungberg will always be involved firsthand, making sure he gets his points across clearly.
“However long I oversee Arsenal for, I will give everything I have to put smiles on faces again,” said Ljungberg in a message to fans on social media.
“We have a busy few weeks ahead and the team needs your support.”
The relationships Ljungberg has with the younger players in the squad need little explanation. He was their coach last season for the U23s and many would run through a brick wall for him.
Talk to players such as Joe Willock or Bukayo Saka and their eyes light up at the mention of his name.
Willock flourished under the two-time Premier League winner last season while playing for the U23s. It was a breakthrough campaign for the academy product who had been struggling to live up to his potential prior to working with Ljungberg.
“Freddie is not only a legend, he’s an unbelievable manager and coach,” said the 20-year-old, who has scored four goals in 17 appearances for the senior side this season.
“He’s a mentor for me, he showed me a lot behind the scenes that people don’t really know about.
“He’s improved my whole overall game. If I’m being specific, getting in the pockets when I’m playing No.10 and attacking at No.8.
“He showed me a lot of different tactics to get space and turn to attack other teams. Every day I’m working with him and I’m learning from him.”
Ljungberg prefers to operate with a 4-2-3-1 system, a formation that certainly got the best out of Willock last season with the U23s.
The midfielder primarily operated as part of the central pairing in midfield. He was tasked with winning the ball back high up the pitch and then leading the charge with wingers like Xavier Amaechi and Saka either side bombing down either flank, with one of either Tyreece John-Jules or Eddie Nketiah up front and Emile Smith Rowe in behind.
Ljungberg wants his teams to press high up the pitch, a tactic Emery tried to implement during his time in north London – but one he failed miserably to install.
And that should suit Arsenal going forward when you look at the make-up of their squad. Nicolas Pepe will be hoping to get far more of a look-in than in recent weeks and players like Saka and Reiss Nelson will be eagerly anticipating working under the Swede once again.
“Freddie’s information is vital for me because I play in the same position as him and he’s been a big part in my progress,” said Saka after producing a man-of-the-match display against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League in September.
“He gives a lot of advice to me every day but the best piece of advice he’s given me is to stay humble.
“He’s been with me since I was 15, seen me do amazing things but he always tells me to stay humble and to keep working hard because he really thinks I can be a top player.”
It’s those types of man-management skills that Arsenal hope will get more out of a squad that has clearly under-performed throughout the strict, video analysis-driven tenure of Emery.
Ljungberg’s first game in charge comes this Sunday at Norwich. Arsenal go into it on the back of seven games without a win – the club’s worst run since 1992 – so any type of victory will be well received.
How long the Swede will be in charge is not yet clear. It could be matter of weeks or it could be for the season. That is something the Gunners hierarchy will need to sort out but for now they are confident they have the man in place who can get the squad firing again.
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