Arsenal have appointed Freddie Ljungberg as interim head coach, taking charge temporarily whilst the club search for a long-term successor to Unai Emery.
Arsenal confirmed the change on Friday morning, writing: “We have asked Freddie Ljungberg to take responsibility for the first team as interim head coach. We have full confidence in Freddie to take us forward.
“The search for a new head coach is underway and we will make a further announcement when that process is complete.”
Ljungberg spent the 2018/19 season in charge of the Arsenal u23s, and as I was covering the youth side all season, I’ve got a pretty good idea about what he’s like.
Let’s begin with formation. The former Swedish international mostly used a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3. At times he switched to a three-at-the-back (at the same time as the first-team did), but the team were at their best with a four.
The one thing that was consistent all season long was one striker and two wide players, so you can make of that what you will.
In some ways, Ljungberg’s team played in a similar way to how we were told Unai Emery’s would when he first joined. They liked to play out from the back, and they were excellent at pressing opponents into mistakes.
They did both of those things a lot more effectively than Emery’s side though, albeit at youth level, and that style was combined with quick counter-attacks and more attacking freedom than we’ve come to expect under the Spaniard.
Joe Willock, playing in midfield, was often given license to roam and support the attacks with late runs into the box or drop deeper when necessary. Bukayo Saka and Xavier Amaechi, the starting wingers for the second half of the season, would often switch flanks midway through a game.
Ljungberg also publicly emphasised how important it was for the attacking players to stay high up the field where they could cause the opposition problems.
“How I see it is that Bukayo Saka, Xavier Amaechi and Tyreece John-Jules don’t have to be so far back in the pitch,” Ljungberg said in April. “What they have learned is that they need to stay where they will be dangerous.
“Other boys will play it out from the back and find pockets. We can feed Bukayo. And then he’ll be in a situation further up the field where he can be a game-changer. But if we don’t feed the ball to him in the right place there won’t be that action.
“My whole philosophy on football is that good players should be the right position to receive the ball.”
Those quotes will be music to the ears of fans who have watched Arsenal’s wealth of attacking talent squandered for the majority of the year.
Despite all the goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, there was still a sense that Arsenal weren’t creating enough for them. The same is especially true for Nicolas Pepe, who seemed to almost be playing right-back at times.
If Ljungberg can succeed in implementing a system where those attacking players can regularly take up more advanced positions where they can be more threatening, it will certainly be a good thing for the team.
Ljungberg was well-respected by the young players in his u23 side. They all spoke very highly of him and his philosophy in interviews, they were all willing to speak to him when they had problems. I rarely saw him undermined in public or even behind the scenes.
The former winger passionately defended his team and instructed them from the sidelines. There were quite a few verbal clashes with the officials, and he didn’t shy away from barking instructions out when necessary.
Of course, this was all in youth football. It’s a different task taking charge of a senior side, and given Ljungberg hasn’t managed a competitive first-team game before, it’s impossible to say how he’ll do until he gets underway.
The one negative worth mentioning would be the length of time it took for Ljungberg to fully implement his philosophy with the u23s. There was certainly a transition period in the 2018/19 season, and the team actually suffered a few heavy defeats during that time.
Most of those could be explained away by injuries, first-team call-ups and red cards, but it was also true that the team took unnecessary risks at times in pursuit of a playing style they clearly believed in – but weren’t quite ready for.
It all came together in the second half of the campaign, with the academy side going unbeaten in 2019 and racing up the table to narrowly miss out on the PL2 title, finishing second.
They had plenty of big results in that time too, beating Manchester City 5-1, Spurs 4-0, Derby 5-0, Chelsea 3-1, Leicester 3-0, and only failing to score in a single game from January to May – a 0-0 draw against champions Everton away from home.
It just might take some time for Ljungberg to replicate anything like that with the first team.