With Unai Emery gone, at least caretaker manager Freddie Ljungberg knows what a winning Arsenal team looks like. The Swede made over 200 appearances for the Gunners in a nine-year spell at the club and was part of the ‘Invincibles’ team that won the Premier League title without losing a match in the 2003-04 season.
Now, with Ljungberg finding himself in the hot seat at Arsenal, he has a job on his hands to restore confidence in a team that looked increasingly frail towards the end of Emery’s reign. Arsenal’s defence have leaked goals at a worrying rate in recent months, and they have missed the bite in midfield that defined the unbeaten side Ljungberg was part of. While every Arsenal fan wants to see free-flowing football and plenty of goals, the Swede’s first priority has to be to shore up the team’s defensive shortcomings and instil a grittier attitude in the players.
Lack of leaders
It’s evident that Arsenal lack a real leader in defence and midfield. The controversy over the club captaincy was symptomatic of Emery’s lack of control in the final few months of his reign. Granit Xhaka’s angry reaction to being booed, for which he was stripped of the captaincy, proved that he was not the right man to wear the armband, and Arsenal have lacked a clear and authoritative presence in that part of the pitch.
At the back, defensive calamities have defined this season, with David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi cutting shaky figures at the heart of the back four. When individual mistakes abound, it is hard to create any kind of confidence between defence and midfield. With no clear leader to rally the troops and encourage the rest of the team, Arsenal have struggled to overcome this problem.
Ljungberg played in Arsenal teams that had strong personalities and leaders – the likes of Martin Keown, Patrick Vieira and Ray Parlour. However long his spell as caretaker manager lasts, it’s up to him to inspire his players to assume responsibility on the pitch and demand more from each other. A more cohesive, focused group of players would make Arsenal a safer pick in football betting.
Arsenal have too often found themselves overrun in midfield, they need greater tenacity and determination to improve results. Players like Lucas Torreira and Mattéo Guendouzi have the potential to provide this midfield bite, and under new leadership, they might flourish.
There was often a sense of aimlessness under Emery, that Arsenal were waiting for either Alexandre Lacazette or Pierre Emerick Aubameyang to work their magic to carry them through a match. For the team to get back on track and aim for Champions League qualification, they need to show more doggedness in every area of the pitch. There were some positive signs in this regard in the recent 2-2 draw with Norwich City. Although Arsenal fell behind twice in the match, they were able to recover both times and earn a point, when in the past they may have struggled to hit back.
Ljungberg was part of some great midfields in his time at the club, full of characters and hard-hitting, no-nonsense players like Vieira and Gilberto Silva. Under Emery, Arsenal lacked the determination that defined the ‘Invincibles’ team. But with one of its veterans in charge for the time being, there is a chance for the current crop of players to feed off Ljungberg’s experience.
The search goes on for Arsenal’s new full-time manager. It seems unlikely that Ljungberg will be given the role on a permanent basis, but he has a job to get the team back to winning ways for now. With the top half of the Premier League looking more competitive this season than ever, Arsenal need players who are ready to fight.
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