Arsenal’s interim coach, Freddie Ljungberg will have his first baptism as manager of Arsenal this Sunday as the team travels to Norwich. For now, the interim boss hopes rapport with younger players will help revive the befuddled Gunners.
It was offered as a throwaway line but, when Bukayo Saka said after the 3-0 Europa League win at Eintracht Frankfurt in September that Freddie Ljungberg had been key in helping him understand Unai Emery’s instructions, the alarm bells sounded.
He was hardly alone in not grasping exactly what the Spaniard required of him and the manager’s fractured English frequently led to confusion on the training ground.
Interim boss Ljungberg has no such problems and it is remarkable how effective short, simple messages can be. The Swede certainly has the ear of Arsenal’s younger players, many of whom worked with him closely in the academy, and has quickly established an easy rapport with the first-team figures.
For now, a little clarity may be enough to get a tune from a befuddled squad.
Given that Arsenal have eight games this month, starting with today’s Premier League trip to Norwich, and little opportunity to perfect new ideas in training, anyone expecting Ljungberg to conjure an instant blend in his own image would be setting unfair demands.
The 42-year-old, who was an assistant to Emery and also coached Arsenal’s under-23 team, said: “I don’t think that’s the best thing to do. I’m not going to just go and smash things up.”
But he may be able to answer the question of what Arsenal actually are as a team. Part of the reason for Emery’s downfall was that he tried too many things and ended up grasping at thin air.
Ljungberg, whose instinct is towards the fast attacking football with which he thrived as an Arsenal player, must establish some kind of identity as quickly as possible.
He said: “For me, happy footballers play the best football… often the players we have enjoy playing offensive football which makes them happy.”
He must also cut out the defensive mistakes that have dogged the team this season – partly owing to Emery’s ill-advised insistence on playing out from the back.
Acknowledging the work that lies ahead of him as the Gunners draw up a shortlist of names to take over on a permanent basis, he tweeted: “However long I oversee Arsenal for, I’ll give everything I have to put smiles on faces again.
“We have a busy few weeks ahead and the team need your support.”
The former winger played for Arsenal from 1998 to 2007 and was part of the “Invincibles” team who went through the 2003-04 league season unbeaten. The current team are winless in seven games, their worst run in 27 years.
In his departing statement on Friday, Emery called his 18-month spell an honour, adding: “I would have liked nothing more than to have achieved better results for you.”