The appointment of Arsenal’s Under 23 coach Freddie Ljungberg as the new assistant manager, replacing Steve Bould, is very much statement of intent both by Unai Emery and the club in general.
The Swede’s first words on being appointed show where the club’s focus in the coming years will lie: youth development:
“I’m really excited by this opportunity to continue helping develop and work with some of the great young players we have coming through in the first-team environment and to work alongside Unai and his coaching team to help Arsenal win trophies.”
Ljungberg’s job, it appears, will be to guide the likes of Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson in their transition from academy players into first-team regulars.
Some of this is certainly based on necessity. After the Europa League final, Emery expressed there would be an extra emphasis on youth following the club’s failure to qualify for the Champions League.
The lack of funds to reinforce the squad means some of that slack will have to be taken up by the younger players, and Ljungberg will be there to help them ease into life at the Emirates where their performances will be put under a microscope.
At youth level, the ex-Arsenal star has already shown that he is more than capable of guiding young talent. He helped the Under 21s into the second round of the EFL Trophy last season where his team achieved impressive wins over League One side Coventry and League Two outfit Forest Green in the group stages.
His knowledge of the players will likely make him invaluable for Emery, who may need to rely on his advice in order to decide who is ready to make the step up.
There is a large group of talented youngsters chomping at the bit to be let loose. Some will fail, while others will flourish under the glare of the watching Arsenal support.
As one of the Invincibles too, his experience is something that both the manager and the players under his guidance can call upon.
These young players will make mistakes along the way, and it is important that they have someone there like Ljungberg who they already know and trust.
The fact that the club is having to rely on youngsters will be hugely frustrating for some fans, and while some may see it as unfair that these players will be thrust into the spotlight due to the lack of investment, many of these talents are ready to play a more prominent role.
Nketiah’s goal on the final day of the season against Burnley, Willock’s cameo in the final against Chelsea, some of Nelson’s performances on loan at Hoffenheim, as well as others such as Smith-Rowe and Saka, show there is huge promise in the club’s youth ranks. Hopefully, Ljungberg can help guide them towards success in the first team.