Its taken some time but the Unai Emery era has finally reached its conclusion.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you’re probably aware of the fact that Arsenal finally sacked their head coach on Friday after being at the club for eighteen months.
After a dismal start to the new league season, the club’s decision to dismiss the 48-year-old was certainly the right choice to make. As of writing, the Gunners are sitting in ninth in the league table, have won just two of their last ten games, and are also experiencing their worst ever start to a Premier League season.
Following Emery’s sacking, it was confirmed that club legend Freddie Ljungberg would take over from the Spaniard on an interim basis. Despite the mixed reactions to the announcement, I’m excited to see what sort of impact the 42-year-old will have on the first-team.
Some facts and figures:
- Previous teams managed: Arsenal u23s (2018-19)
- Win percentage: 45.5%
- Premier League 2 2018/19 Breakdown:
- Games Played – 22; Games Won – 10; Games Drawn – 7; Games Lost – 5
- Arsenal finished second in the league with 37 points, five away from retaining their title.
- Freddie Ljungberg’s side scored the most goals during the season with 48.
- However, his side conceded the sixth highest goals in the league with 36, 22 more than the champions, Everton.
- In their 2017/18 title winning campaign, Arsenal had also scored 48 goals but they conceded four less.
While the Swedish international doesn’t have a lot of experience in management, he has shown some signs of promise. For example, in his only season managing the Arsenal under-23 side, Ljungberg was quite successful despite being unable to retain the Premier League 2 title.
He introduced a new and exciting style of football, awarded a number of opportunities to players from the under-18 side, and led his team to big wins against the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City, and Tottenham.
But, his biggest success during this time was his ability to help improve players. Take a look at the team from the 2018/19 season and it’s clear to see how many players improved exponentially under Ljungberg. To name a few: Joe Willock, Bukayo Saka, and Tyreece John-Jules all raised their games and are now being rewarded with opportunities in the first-team.
Although some may have improved thanks to their natural talent and ability alone, the fact that Ljungberg played an integral role in so many player’s development is encouraging to see.
It’s crucial that the club does whatever it can to help certain talents like Gabriel Martinelli and Reiss Nelson develop and the appointment of Ljungberg on an interim basis is a smart decision from the board. He’s respected amongst a majority of the team and, as noted, he’s already played a crucial role in many player’s development.
Should he remain at the club until the end of the season, there’s more than enough time for the Swedish coach to integrate and develop certain young individuals into regular first-team players. Considering the club’s lack of options out wide, the likes of Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe should receive a lot more opportunities to impress. Meanwhile, Willock was arguably the player that improved the most under the club legend and I imagine he’ll receive a lot of opportunities in Arsenal’s inconsistent midfield.
Considering his new role, it’ll be interesting to see whether Ljungberg will be able to replicate some of his success from last season with some of the current first-team members. The likes of Mesut Ozil, Lucas Torreira and Nicolas Pepe were all severely misused under Emery and I’m excited to see how they’ll perform under a different coach. Watching Torreira operate in his natural position again will be nice to see and an attacking based system where players control games, progress the ball, and make frequent runs should benefit the likes of Ozil and Pepe.
For what it’s worth, I’m just excited to watch Arsenal play an attacking style of football once again. Although Ljungberg’s promotion doesn’t guarantee that, he has hinted towards his love of this style. Should he implement the same tactics as he did with the under-23s, I imagine we’ll be entertaining to watch once again and a lot of players should be able to return to their best.
However, while Ljungberg has the potential, it’s worth mentioning that this is still a big gamble from the board. The Arsenal legend is entering his first role in senior management and has inherited a squad that’s out of form and looks frail defensively. Regardless of today’s result versus Norwich, it’s important that the fans unite because effective change will take place over time and not in a few days.
Also, it’s crucial that the board does not make the same mistake as Manchester United did. They should weigh up all of the available options and make the right decision when the season ends – unless Ljungberg’s time here fails to meet expectations.
It’s a bit of a strange thing to say but I’m excited to watch someone manage Arsenal that understands the values of the club. Watching us under Emery felt like a boring chore more than anything and it’s clear we lacked a vision on the pitch. The formation changed weekly, player roles switched constantly, and we entered a majority of the games like we were the underdogs.
I hope those days never return now that Ljungberg is at the helm and I hope this gamble pays off.
Key quotes from his interview:
On what it means to him to lead the team:
- “It’s a great, great honour. I want to do as well as I can for this fantastic club and that’s what I feel today. I feel excitement and I’ll try to do a good job.”
On whether he has interest in a more permanent tenure:
- “For the moment it’s for the future of the football club. I’m here to help the club as much as I possibly can and try to get a good atmosphere around the club and with the supporters and that’s what I’m focusing on at the moment and then we’ll see.”
On how he would you describe his approach to the game:
- “I’ve been at Arsenal for a long, long, long time, I like entertaining football but of course at the same time you can’t concede goals. That’s a tricky balance to find. For me, happy footballers play the best football. That’s a part I learnt as a player, there is a time to work hard but at the same time we need to enjoy what we’re doing. Often the players we have enjoy playing offensive football which makes them happy.”
On how confident he is about restoring a positive feeling around the club:
- “Of course I am confident, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken it when they asked me to help. If I didn’t feel I could help them I wouldn’t have done it, so of course I am confident in that way.”
On what his message to the Arsenal fans is:
- “They are amazing fans, they are. We need them and the players need them. That’s the main thing that I can say to them.”