Arsenal did some very good business during the summer transfer window by making several key new additions. One piece of business that has flown under the radar but is proving to be a shrewd move is the addition of Freddie Ljungberg to the first team coaching staff.
The former midfielder was the head coach of Arsenal’s Under-23 team last season and had previously oversaw the club’s Under-15 side.
Ljungberg’s switch to Emery’s staff is an important link between the Academy and the first team. He knows which younger players are ready for the chance to show their talent at a higher level.
It’s obvious from Arsenal’s pre-season matches and the first two league games of the season that Unai Emery is giving opportunities to some of the club’s younger Academy products. In fact, Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson became the first two teenagers to start a league match for Arsenal since 1998. (Paolo Vernazza and Matthew Upson) Ljungberg’s knowledge and experience with these players is paying dividends for the senior team.
Arsenal Director of Football Raul Sanllehi addressed the importance of Ljungberg’s new position to the organization’s future plans:
The transition from Under-23 to first team is massive.
Promoting young players from within has always been a key part of Arsenal and what we represent. We want to continue that tradition for a number of reasons, but you could boil it down to two main ones. Firstly, these players grow up with the club and we think having players with this natural bond around what it means to play for Arsenal is good in the dressing room and for the connection with our fans.
Secondly, despite the huge investment we make into our academy, with rapid inflation in transfer fees it is financially efficient. It’s not about cutting costs or being ‘cheap’, it just means we can then focus funds to make the biggest impact, to get better players when we need to go to the external market.
Emery spoke highly of Ljungberg’s addition to his coaching staff:
Ljungberg] worked last year with the under-23s and we were very close, speaking about the young players. It’s perfect and he helps me a lot. He has an advantage with the young players because he knows them very well.
He is an assistant like Carcedo, Pablo Villanueva, like another. Usually tactically and technically we are working as a four.
Some of Arsenal’s young players have credited Ljungberg for their rise to the first team.
Midfielder Emile Smith Rowe said:
It’s a bit surreal working with a legend like Freddie. You can take on a lot from him and I’m excited to work with him again. All the young players are because we had him with the U-23s. We’re privileged to work with him. He’s given the lads a lot of information on working with Unai, he’s trying to help the young boys make the step up. He’s been there, he knows what it likes, so it’s great to work with him.
17-year-old winger Bukayo Saka was included in Arsenal’s pre-season tour. He said of Ljungberg,
”Freddie helps Unai know who we are, tells him our strengths and weaknesses and comes to us individually and tells us what we need to do from Unai”
Willock has started the Gunners’ first two matches of the season. The 20-year-old caught Emery’s attention last season under Ljungberg’s guidance. In 20 games for the Under-23 side he scored 12 goals.
The midfielder spoke highly of Ljungberg:
Freddie is not only such a legend at the club, he’s an unbelievable manager and coach. He’s a mentor for me, he showed me a lot behind the scenes that people don’t really know about. Every day I’m working with him and I’m learning from him. To be honest, he’s improved my whole overall game.