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20/21 First Team General

Freddie Ljungberg Leaves the Club

It was announced today, that club legend Freddie Ljungberg would leave the club, ending an on/off association that has lasted nearly twenty-two years.

Ljungberg was a part of Mikel Arteta’s coaching staff and was the U23s coach last season, which saw the likes of Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and Bukayo Saka perform extremely well and even receive some first-team call-ups.

Ljungberg’s impact at the club was so significant, that Arsenal saw fit to promote Ljungberg to the first-team, switching with Steve Bould, who resumed his old post as the U23s coach. Ljungberg was the first development coach at the club, a coach who’s main responsibility would be the integration of youngsters from the youth team into the first-team.

Ljungberg during a pre-match training session

However, following the disastrous final months of Unai Emery’s tenure, which culminated in a humiliating 1-2 home defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt, Ljungberg stepped in as the interim head-coach, naming Per Mertesacker as his temporary assistant.

Though only thought to be a temporary appointment while the board and executive team sought a replacement, there was an increased feeling among Arsenal supporters that Ljungberg was not fully supported by the executive team.

There were repeated instances of the club insisting that Ljungberg would be given a temporary backroom staff of his own to help hold back the tide, but no staff were forthcoming. Ljungberg had initially asked for Ryan Garry, also a former Arsenal player, to fill in, however, Arsenal did not allow Ljungberg to bring Garry into the first-team fold.

Ljungberg during his time with Andries Jonker

There were also instances of doubling up, whereby doctors and physios were required to double as coaches while Head of Football Relations, Raül Sanllehí and Technical Director, Edu sought a replacement.

During Ljungberg’s tenure, Arsenal only won one game, an away game against West Ham United, that also saw Nicolas Pépé grab his first goal for the club from open play.

Despite the rather discouraging results, Ljungberg was praised for his use of youth players. Joe Willock had featured heavily under Ljungberg in the U23s and was given more time in the starting eleven, so too was Bukayo Saka and he even handed Gabriel Martinelli his first Premier League start, which the Brazilian paid back in style with a goal on his full-debut, also against West Ham.

He was also not shy of handing out discipline where needed. Following Mesut Özil’s reaction to being substituted against Manchester City, Ljungberg was the first to condemn the German playmaker’s actions and reminded Özil of his responsibilities and left him out of the squad for the team’s subsequent match against Everton, which was Ljungberg’s last in charge.

Ljungberg takes charge of the senior side

Eventually, the Arsenal board appointed Mikel Arteta, who had been one of the frontrunners for the position prior to Emery’s appointment.

It was initially unknown what part, if any, that Ljungberg would play in Arteta’s backroom staff, as the Spaniard brought in Albert Stuivenberg and Steve Round as his assistant coaches. However, it was eventually confirmed that Ljungberg would have a place as Arteta’s third Assistant Coach.

Ljungberg’s role under Arteta differed from his role under Emery. Given Emery’s understandably poor grasp of the English language, he struggled to communicate with his players, particularly the youngsters, who were not well-versed in the complex tactical discussions that Emery enjoyed, which meant that Ljungberg was often regarded as the de-facto coach for the youth players and as an unofficial translator, especially as Ljungberg himself was beginning to undertake Spanish lessons.

Bukayo Saka: One of the many youth players who were aided by Ljungberg’s involvement in the first team

However, under Arteta, Ljungberg’s influence has been reduced. While Stuivenberg and Round are generally in the thick of it on the touchline with Arteta, Ljungberg is usually high above in the stands, mic’ed up, providing real-time analysis of the game from an eagle-eye view. Though the role is a very important one, it can often be diminished when compared to the touchline role he had had before and it is thought that Ljungberg was not overly fond of the position.

Nevertheless, Ljungberg has been an important part of Arsenal’s team this season and was notably in and amongst the celebrations during Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Chelsea in the FA Cup final, in what must of felt like a splash of deja vu for the Swede, who famously shrugged off John Terry to score in Arsenal’s FA Cup win over Chelsea in 2002.

Ljungberg had previously been a part of the club under Arsène Wenger as well, operating as the Assistant Coach to Andries Jonker, before Jonker moved to VfL Wolfsburg, taking Ljungberg with him. Wenger however was not keen on allowing Ljungberg to follow the Dutchman to Wolfsburg and only allowed him to leave on the promise that he would return to Arsenal one day, which shows the tremendous amount of faith placed in him even in the early years of his coaching.

Ljungberg scores Arsenal’s second goal in the 2002 FA Cup final against Chelsea

Ljungberg leaves with a hope to pursue other management careers elsewhere; he had previously been offered opportunities in during the 2020/21 season, however, Ljungberg did not like the idea of making a switch mid-season or leaving Arteta in the lurch, so to speak, so he stayed put.

Upon leaving the club, Technical Director Edu said: “We’re really sad to see Freddie leave as we know how much he loves Arsenal. However, we know he has had various opportunities over the last 12 months and stuck to the job at Arsenal. Now he has the opportunity to consider other options, and it makes sense for his career at this time.”

Mikel Arteta said: “Freddie has been a really important member of my team since my arrival. He did a great job picking the team up when Unai left and we all have 100 per cent respect for him as a man and a coach. I know I’ll be facing him on the touchline in the future.”

Ljungberg was a huge advocate of Joe Willock’s inclusion in the first team

The quotes from Edu and Arteta give a brief understanding of just how well thought of at the club Ljungberg was and how right Wenger was to make the former number eight promise to return to Arsenal one day.

Not many players have the distinction of becoming a fan favourite and having their own song, but Ljungberg did just that, whether it be scoring against Manchester United on his debut, scoring against Chelsea in the FA Cup final, being an important part of the Invincibles or for his work in the wake of Unai Emery’s departure, Ljungberg will always be well-thought-of at Arsenal.

The stylish Swede leaves Arsenal to pursue a management career of his own and leaves with Arsenal’s blessings.

Mikel Arteta had wanted to add another member to his coaching staff prior to Ljungberg’s departure, but the process will no doubt be accelerated now as the Spaniard is down to just two assistant coaches, with Brentford’s Andreas Georgson thought to be of interest.

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