Football Features

Freddie Ljungberg: Arsenal interim manager must learn quick lessons to oversee upturn in results

By Chris Smith

Published: 17:16, 1 December 2019

Freddie Ljungberg’s reign as interim Arsenal manager kicked off with a 2-2 draw away at Norwich City on Sunday.

Of course, Ljungberg has barely had chance to get Unai Emery’s imprint out of his desk chair, let alone work on tactics with his squad, so to expect a total revamp on Sunday would have been unfair.

That said, there were some obvious differences in formation and approach from the Gunners at Carrow Road, so Ljungberg clearly had a plan to tweak things in his mind.

But the former Sweden international was presented with two clear problems against Norwich, with both feeding into one another, and each requiring quick solutions.

Arsenal’s passive defending has long left a lot to be desired, right from the end of the Arsene Wenger era, through to Emery’s sacking on Friday. Ljungberg’s short time in the job so far means such a huge problem was unlikely to change on Sunday.

That said, despite having to yield goals and points in the process, Ljungberg will have learned a great deal about just how bad his defence can be.

Take a look at both of Norwich’s goals and the problem becomes clear; Arsenal are far too passive. Time and again, they allowed the Canaries to pick the ball up lightyears away from Bernd Leno’s penalty area before simply standing off them and conceding territory.

Before they knew it, Norwich were on the edge of the Arsenal box with the Gunners out of shape and split open by some simple passing combinations. On another day, without some Leno heroics, the result could have been much worse.

Especially against a side like Norwich, who love being in possession but are liable to the odd lapse themselves, Arsenal cannot afford to allow the opposition to travel so far with the ball without some kind of challenge.

They have to press to force the mistake but – more importantly – their centre-backs aren’t competent enough to handle sustained pressure, so keeping the ball away from them for as long as possible would be advisable.

Ljungberg fielded the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Joe Willock from the start on Sunday, while he also introduced Bukayo Saka, all of which are mobile, intelligent players, capable of carrying out an organised and sustained press.

It seems strange to criticise Arsenal’s lack of killer instinct after they scored two goals but they honestly should have had so much more.

From Lacazette’s effort which was saved by Tim Krul during the opening five minutes to the absolute barrage of corners the Gunners enjoyed throughout the match, Arsenal created a ton of chances against Norwich.

However, one of their two goals came from a penalty which had to be retaken after VAR spotted some encroachment in the box. Yes, they’re the rules and Aubameyang was rightly given an opportunity to atone for his error, but Arsenal got incredibly lucky in this instance.

Arsenal ended the match with a total of 16 shots, but only but seven on target. They have some of the most potent attackers in the Premier League but on Sunday, they fell short of landing a killer blow. If your defence is as bad as theirs, this simply cannot happen.

Ljungberg’s decision to introduce Lucas Torreira as his first substitute, while leaving Nicolas Pepe sat on the bench in favour of Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, was certainly a strange one.

Perhaps showing faith in Pepe and allowing his goalscoring traits to flourish could have made the difference on Sunday. We’ll never know. Either way, Ljungberg must find Arsenal’s ruthless streak. And fast.