Arsenal legend and U23 boss Freddie Ljungberg on ‘humble’ Bukayo Saka and Joe Willock
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Arsenal U23 boss and Gunners legend Freddie Ljungberg has been speaking to the Islington Gazette about the talented Bukayo Saka and Joe Willock. Read on for his Q&A with Layth Yousif.
Bukayo Saka played really well during Arsenal U23s 5-1 victory over Manchester City U23s...
Yes they [team] played well. When we have that kind of lineup it works for us to play with energy and they’re doing their jobs both offensively and defensively then all of a sudden you get the rewards.
Saka has got to be knocking on the first-team door?
Bukayo is very, very good. I said it from the beginning of the season. I had him when he was 15 and I have him again, which is a pleasure. He’s a kid that’s humble, he works really hard every day in training, sometimes with the first team and sometimes with us. He just needs to keep on working. His time will come. The only thing we have to look at, sometimes, is that he’s only 17.
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What changes have you seen in him?
He was supposed to play with the U18s this season and I think, sorry to say, he was better than that. But I didn’t want to just throw him in. When you’re at Hale End you don’t train as much as we do. We looked at the physical aspect, that we wouldn’t kill him the first two, three months. He didn’t play much but he was on the bench on purpose. It wasn’t that he wasn’t training or playing well, it was more of a physical thing to get him used to things. He’s taking steps and steps, building on everything. What is good with him is everybody listens but he takes in information. For instance a lot of wingers will run [straight] up when you press instead of going in another direction, killing an angle so you can go again and have a better chance to intercept the ball because you have the full-back where you want him. Stuff like that is really difficult but he’s learning really quickly. It amazes me as a coach.
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Must help he played left-back?
Yes of course. We all know if he plays left-back or left-wing he can be a very, very good player regardless. When he was 15 sometimes he wasn’t happy as a left-back even if he scored three goals. We told him he needed to practice being a left-back though! That’s part of development. I’m very happy with him but at the same time there’s a whole team, I don’t like to say this one or that one is good. We had 11 players who played really, really well today.
Would Joe Willock’s progression be furthered with a loan spell?
That’s a good question. It’s a bit up to the first team to decide where they want him. They need back-up for their players if injuries hit. I think he’s still learning things when he plays here so we maybe have more tactical and technical things we can teach him. If he goes on loan there will be more men’s football, so different things to learn. The main thing when you go on loan is it’s to the right club, that they play the football we want to play. It’s not up to me if he goes on loan, that’s up to big boys above me.
Will an Arsenal loan manager help?
We do try to look a little bit at that already, thinking when they should go on loan and the pathway, not just playing them. If you have a loan manager as well it will make it a lot easier, he can take ownership of that and discuss with us coaches whether the players are ready, if they’re going to a good club, what they should learn. I think it will be great.
For interviews with big names follow Arsenal reporter Layth on Twitter @laythy29