Arsenal U21 boss Freddie Ljungberg opens up

Freddie Ljungberg in a photocall for Calvin Klein (for whom he models), at the House of Fraser, cent

Freddie Ljungberg in a photocall for Calvin Klein (for whom he models), at the House of Fraser, central London.PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Arsenal U21 boss Freddie Ljungberg has been speaking after his side’s trip to Cheltenham Town in the Checkatrade Trophy. Read on for an extensive Q&A with the Gunners legend

Arsenal travelled to play Cheltenham Town's Whaddon Road. PA

Arsenal travelled to play Cheltenham Town's Whaddon Road. PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Difficult night for the Arsenal, what were your feelings in the aftermath?

Of course you’re disappointed but we have to look at the positives. It’s still a youth team where we try to learn. I told them that if that was the first team maybe the manager would be screaming and shouting. We still have to be focused and see what we can learn from it. They had changed the system they played before, we tried to always play out from the back because I think that’s what a youth team player has to learn. I don’t want them to change and just boot it because the result will get better, I want them to learn so they’re ready when they go up to the first team. But you maybe have to change how you play out from the back. We made some mistakes in the beginning of the game, I said ‘you have to be more mature and you can’t just keep making the same mistakes’. We’re going to learn a lot and of course we got a sending off and then it’s a really uphill battle. The boys fought well but I’m not happy.

Freddie Ljungberg celebrates the strike by Sylvain Wiltord that won the Premier League for Arsenal a

Freddie Ljungberg celebrates the strike by Sylvain Wiltord that won the Premier League for Arsenal against Manchester United - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Why was Ben Sheaf taken off after half an hour?

Ben has been injured for a long time. The doctors will obviously look at it but he didn’t feel right almost after the first seven minutes or so. We’ve been told that maybe he has to keep on going with it so we tried for 25 minutes but he said it just got worse and worse and he couldn’t really play. We had to take the decision to take him off. It’s a big blow for him, it’s been a long, sh**ty season for him so far. I was really pleased for him to come in but I’m sorry it didn’t work.

Arsenal's Freddie Ljungberg celebrates with teammate Robert Pires. PA

Arsenal's Freddie Ljungberg celebrates with teammate Robert Pires. PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

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Freddie Ljungberg with Layth Yousif at Cheltenham

Freddie Ljungberg with Layth Yousif at Cheltenham - Credit: Archant

He did really well, help up the line. That’s what disappoints me the most because when we start playing football we play really well. You can’t say when you lose 6-2 that you had them on the ropes but a little bit at 4-2 you felt like things could happen, if we’d got 4-3 maybe there could have been some nerves in the game. Gedion did well when he came on as well but that was another substitution where he was not ready to play more than 25 minutes so I had to sit and wait until he could come on and then we changed the system.

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Is this a reality check for players over Football League football?

Yeah, obviously. We lost big but we got a sending off that was silly but we all make mistakes, that’s what this is about. We make some individual mistakes in my opinion on their goals and they punished us for it. That’s what happens. We have to learn from that and be a bit more solid but at the same time we said on the bench if it’s 2-0 down in a cup game we’re going to go for it and try to win. We won’t sit back and close the shop and lose 2-0. What’s the point? What will they learn from that? We tried to go for it and of course that led to a big score but I thought it was better for the boys to learn that way.

What have you learned about yourself from this game?

I’ll learn lots. I always look at the videos after the game. But in general terms I feel like the boys understand how we want to play football but when they came under trouble maybe they have to change it a bit, maybe not play the same ball that we talked about. We thought maybe they’d play a 4-1-4-1 system and when they changed to a back five and three you have to see different weaknesses. That’s something I have to educate the players about. They need to see different options and not just keep going.

Emile Smith Rowe, how proud are you?

Of course we’re proud. The whole academy is proud. Nothing really fazes him. He’s always calm and works really hard in training. He takes steps and steps. I think Zech was in the squad at Crystal Palace, he had never been before. Now I think we have four more going tomorrow. For us that’s great news of course. It’s harder in games but that’s what we get judged on, trying to get them up there. It’s not just me, there have been many, many coaches over many years who have put hours into coaching them so well done everyone.

You said managers might scream and shout, what did you do?

First of all I told them, quite sternly, that that’s what happens in a game like this. Then I tried to explain to them a little the mistakes we’d made. But often after a game - maybe I was told by Arsene a bit - [you realise] you don’t always see the correct things on the bench. Before I go and point fingers at players I like to go and see the videos because there could be different angles. I like to be clear if I want to make a point to someone. I try to be calm after games and have a discussion 24-48 hours late.

Something you’ve picked up from Arsene?


Changes for Forest Green Rovers?

We probably will have to. That’s been our problem a little bit. We have five games in 17 days and we’re young. I need to look at the bodies. They’re not men yet and that’s tough. We’ve been trying to rotate against Swansea and we rotated again today. We have Chelsea again on Saturday and then Forest Green. We have to rotate and try to keep them fresh. I don’t know what happened with Zech, I hope it was just cramp, but there’s a lot of load on them. They’re only 18 years old. We’ll see.

Thoughts on England’s only vegan club?

That’s great for them. I must say I haven’t looked into it too much. The players are asking what they’ll eat when they go there. It’s a great initiative, it’ll be interesting to go there and listen to them.

How is playing against men benefitting the players?

When we get the ball down on the floor we try to play to our strengths. When they are stronger and bigger than you try not to play in the air where they will probably win it. That forces you to adapt when you can’t play the easy ball in the air. Maybe when they play the same age groups they can hold players off because they’re strong enough. Here they get punished straight away and that puts more pressure on the way we play. I like that. I also like that there were some tackles here we thought were borderline but that’s how it is at this level and they learn that it hurts to play football.

Charlie Gilmour put in big tackles, how did he play?

We tried. Of course that’s part of it. They gave it all. There was nothing we didn’t try. But we made so silly mistakes and got punished. Especially when you play against a team like that with 10 men for so long it is tough, no question. But what I’m thinking afterwards is should I have been more like a first team manager and closed the shop? I felt they would learn more from trying to play. That was my decision, if it was right or wrong I don’t know.

Is this competition an inconvenience?

No, no, I value it a lot. The planning of the games could have been better for us but that’s how it is. We can’t decide on that. In certain parts of the season we don’t play games for three weeks in January, that’s how it ease. We cope. That’s why I bring up a lot of U18s to rotate the squad. Results are important but we think it’s important to bring other players in.

Follow Layth on Twitter @laythy29

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