Arsenal U21 boss Freddie Ljungberg in conversation
- Credit: PA Archive/PA Images
Arsenal U21 boss Freddie Ljungberg has been talking to Layth Yousif after his side’s impressive 3-1 victory over Forest Green Rovers in the Checkatrade Trophy. Read on for his wide-ranging chat.
What a difference a week makes?
Just a bit. Of course last time we got a sending off after 10 minutes and that changes the whole game. We were a bit naive. It felt at one stage in that game that we were still in it and we hunted it, tried to get back and couldn’t. Today having 11 players helped! We were solid from the start, I thought as a team it was very, very good. We had talked through some aspects of their game we thought we could be a bit dangerous on. I thought the players did it excellently.
They showed character didn’t they?
Yeah. That’s part of football as well. There were a lot of tackles flying in, that’s part of football. That’s why we want to be in this competition. It’s different from youth football. Of course we try to develop football players, we focus a lot on the technicals, rotations. But you still need to have that determination and grit.
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They learned a lot against men in tough conditions?
That’s why we’re here. Against men it’s different. They are physically stronger. I remember last week someone told me Bukayo got pushed off the push and he was stood there asking ‘what happened here’. That doesn’t happen in youth football. It’s great education for them. They’re so happy as well. It’s tough out there but they did well.
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Testament to your management?
It’s always a team effort, everybody has pulled together. We’ve had five games in 17 days, it’s been really hard for the boys. We tried to rotate and sometimes get some of the U18s up to get some fresh legs. Today I didn’t know what we’d get and if they’d be tired but they were sprinting up and down. They did so well.
Players pushed back today?
We want to play technical football. Before I got to Arsenal I always played as a 10. You want to be on the ball. But sometimes the game demands other stuff as well. When we broke the game down we did the counter-pressing, got chances from that and the second goal. Those small things make their lives easier when we want to play football. The combination of everything - especially in today’s football - at the top level, you don’t just have players who look good on the ball and don’t really defend. Nowadays all of them have to do a job and they do that very, very well.
Weather, wind, journey. You must have been have hoping for this when you signed up for the Checkatrade?
Yes, 100 per cent. We play all our games away from home, it’s important for the players to be in atmospheres like this, on different pitches, in different dressing rooms. I think it took us an hour and 20 minutes from the hotel this afternoon, we were a bit late because of the traffic. All those things make them mature, not just to be spoiled and play with us at home where everything is settled. This is great.
Bukayo looks like a quality young player?
I always like not to single players out, we have a lot of really good players. But Bukayo - I had him when he was really young - has always been talented but he wants to work hard every day in training, never cheats, works hard. He’s maturing and maturing. The important thing for players, in my opinion is a coach, is I try to see what special qualities they have and try to put them in situations where they flourish. Today we could see he can run at people and is hard to deal with.
How has he changed since you first worked with him?
How has he changed? He’s older! He has his characteristics that he’ll always have but when in training you want to give your all, to be the best on the pitch and do that for years and years you will develop. It’s not just him, there’s a lot of players who are the same. That’s the spirit I try to give to them. You can have a bad day but if you give it all for two-three years you will develop.
Emile says he could be the next player in the first team, do you agree?
I try not to get involved in those things. I want the whole squad to go up.
How much did you and the team learn from last week’s performance?
It sounds bad to lose like we did but they scored in the 84th and 87th minutes and that’s what killed the game. Before that we looked quite dangerous and even their coach thought it could have gone either way with 10 men. I mostly try to forget about the result - it looks really bad but if you saw the game it wasn’t 6-2 and we were a man down, so don’t be naive and put yourself in a situation with 10 men. If they’re stronger than you keep the ball moving and be more technical. Don’t play on their terms, play on our terms. I thought it was a good wake up for them to not play physical because you don’t really have a chance.
First team players with experience in your side today
Of course it helps. When we entered the tournament the plan was we play a little bit of the older boys and they can have experience against men if they go on loan or up to the first team. They won’t go straight from youth football. At the same time we’re missing Emile and Eddie so we can add people. It’s important for the boys to get this experience.
Gedion played 45 minutes, what did you make of him today?
I feel really sad for him. He has worked really hard since pre-season, he has had some setbacks and things have been happening. We haven’t been able to make him play. For him to have been fighting so long to get back on the pitch is tremendous.