Arsenal have enjoyed the talents of a number of wing wizards over the years but few are remembered as fondly as Sweden star Freddie Ljungberg, who won the hearts of fans during his nine years in north London.
Signed from Halmstad in 1998 for a fee of around £3m, Ljungberg hit the ground running by scoring on his debut against Manchester United in September’s 3-0 victory, arriving off the bench to put the icing on the cake for the Gunners.
His finest performances came following of the turn of the millennia though, with Ljungberg playing a starring role during Arsenal’s double-winning campaign in 2001-02, where Arsenal lifted both the Premier League title and the FA Cup to secure their second double in four seasons.
Ljungberg ended that season with 17 goals in all competitions, stepping up as the star following an injury to Robert Pires, and his important strikes included efforts against Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea – the latter of which was a stunning goal in a 2-0 victory in the FA Cup final.
That was his second consecutive goal in FA Cup finals, having netted against Liverpool in Cardiff the previous year, and he won over the fans with his Beckhamesque hair that went down in Arsenal cult history – dying a red streak, which many fans copied during the club’s double-winning celebrations.
His years of triumph at Arsenal finished with playing a key part in the club’s 49-match unbeaten run in the Premier League, which included lifting the trophy in 2004, and another FA Cup success in 2005 – before then being part of the transitional years following the move to the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal ended their history at Highbury by reaching the Champions League final in 2006, losing 2-1 to Barcelona, and Ljungberg then spent the next few years struggling with persistent problems as the Gunners struggled to replicate their dominance on the field.
It was a huge shame to see Ljungberg’s spell at Arsenal end with those injury issues but the memory of the magician can never be overwritten, as shown in 2008 when he placed 11th on Arsenal’s list of their all-time greatest players – ahead of Sol Campbell, David Rocastle, Pat Rice and many other greats.
Ljungberg is still tied to the club, returning to Arsenal this summer for a second stint as a coach behind the scenes. Previously working with the U15 squad, Ljungberg had a short stint as an assistant at Bundesliga side Wolfsburg before taking charge of Arsenal’s U23 side in June.
He will play a crucial part in the development of the next Arsenal stars this season and fans should be excited by the guidance he can provide the likes of Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe, both of whom have shown glimpses of their talents and will hope to become first-team regulars in the future.
If they and over Arsenal youngsters can harbour the talents of Ljungberg in his prime, then the Gunners could be handed a huge boost in their quest to return to the summit of English football after 14 years without winning the Premier League.
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