Bold Team Selection From Freddie Ljungberg Gives Arsenal Boost

Freddie Ljungberg

For a fair while, it seemed as if it was more of the same for Arsenal. An hour went by at West Ham United without the visitors having a shot on target and, after going 1-0 down through Angelo Ogbonna’s deflected header in the first half, another defeat under Freddie Ljungberg looked likely for a side badly lacking in confidence.

Bold Team Selection From Freddie Ljungberg Lifts Arsenal


Then, all of a sudden, it clicked. On 60 minutes, Sead Kolasinac burst down the left and found 18-year-old Gabriel Martinelli, who cooly finished in the bottom corner. Nicolas Pepe then curled in a beautiful left-footed effort to put the Gunners ahead, before top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made the game safe. Arsenal had finally found their mojo.

In a way, it was typical Arsenal – fragile defensively but capable of delivering a knockout blow of their own. They did the latter and then some.

During Unai Emery’s tortured reign as Arsenal manager, confusion over tactics and team selection caused the biggest frustration amongst fans. He wanted to make Arsenal more pragmatic, which resulted in the stifling of an attack known for being devastating on its day. In addition, there was no accountability. The same players appeared in the Premier League, regardless of their performance levels.

In Need of Inspiration

When Emery was sacked, there was an expectation that interim manager Freddie Ljungberg would, briefly at least, ignite a team needing some inspiration, not just through his words on and off the pitch but with his team selections. Fans wanted him to be bold.

Instead, the opposite happened. In his first two matches against Norwich and Brighton, Ljungberg stuck with a similar team and system to that used by Emery. The disastrous centre-back pairing of Sokratis and David Luiz continued, while Aubameyang was again played out of position and record signing Pepe was left out once more. It was, therefore, no surprise when another two insipid displays yielding just one point followed.

Many believe the problems at Arsenal run deeper than the struggles on the pitch but Ljungberg finally decided to take action on what he could control. The former winger changed the set-up and the personnel against West Ham, deploying a 4-3-3 which focused on width. Luiz was dropped for Callum Chambers at the back, Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka started in midfield, Alexandre Lacazette was dropped, and Pepe and Martinelli got their chances out wide. After a week of turmoil, it was a refreshing boost.

Although Arsenal lacked penetration for an hour, the ten-minute period in which they scored three times vindicated Ljungberg’s change in strategy. Martinelli, who had scored seven goals in six cup starts this season, particularly impressed. In addition to his goal, the Brazilian offered a high-intensity pressing game with and without the ball, making 20 sprints – more than any other player in the match. He also made more tackles and blocks, giving Arsenal a different dimension on the wing.

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What Was Said

“We want to get the energy into the team and shake things up a bit,” Ljungberg told Sky Sports. “He has done very well in Europa League games, looks dangerous, scores goals and works hard. He runs in behind, he’s really quick, and I think he will do well. He is like a Duracell battery, he keeps going. Laca [Alexandre Lacazette] is a tremendous player but I had to make a tough decision.”

The inclusion of Pepe also made a difference. Despite not quite hitting the goal-scoring heights of his previous season for Lille, the Ivorian had shown promise with his dribbling ability and willingness to run at players, something which the Gunners have lacked since the departure of Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United until he fell out of favour under Unai Emery during the Spanish manager’s last few weeks in charge.

Proving His Worth

However, Pepe proved why he was one of the most talked-about wingers in Europe last season with an excellent display at the London Stadium. He made the joint-most dribbles of any player in the match, offering Arsenal a genuine attacking threat, even during those difficult first 60 minutes. The end product final arrived through his brilliant finish to put the Gunners ahead and then his clever assist for Aubameyang on 69 minutes.

Pepe has not yet proven that he is worth the £72 million Arsenal spent on him in the summer but, after an inspired performance and some new faith shown by Ljungberg, he could well prove to be the match-winner on the wing that his side needs.

Elsewhere, the midfield combination of Torreira and Xhaka, a successful pair during the first half of last season, proved to be one that Arsenal can stick with, going forward. Torreira provided an excellent shield in front of the back four, while Xhaka impressed with his calmness on the ball, particularly in the second half.

After a run of nine games without a win, their worst for 42 years, Arsenal badly needed this win. On paper, it is only three points but the positive effect it could have on the squad, going into a tough set of fixtures, could be vital.

Some feel it was two games too late, but Freddie Ljungberg showed he is willing to make bold selections when necessary and Monday’s performance at West Ham proved that may be the way to go if Arsenal have any chance of competing for a top-four spot this season.

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