How do you endear yourself to a new set of fans? Simply follow Freddie Ljungberg’s lead and score just seconds into your debut against Manchester United. It set the precedent for a man who became one of the most loved Arsenal players of the Arsène Wenger era.
For almost 10 years the Gunners’ No 8 was a devout servant to the Club’s cause, epitomising his manager’s philosophy of attractive football, athleticism and enjoyment of the game.
Ljungberg shot to prominence on these shores after terrorising England in a Euro 2000 qualifier for Sweden while still plying his trade at hometown club BK Halmstad. Arsène Wenger moved quickly in securing Freddie’s services but, after his outstanding entrance against United, the Swede suffered with abdominal and ankle injuries.
However the Gunners didn’t have to wait too long before Ljungberg’s undoubted attributes came to the fore. The midfielder was ceaseless in his running from deep, proving equally effective from both flanks and in his preferred role behind the strikers. The immaculate timing of his forays into the box made him nigh on impossible to shackle and as the years progressed he developed a fine telepathy with Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires.
Ljungberg had a particular affinity with the FA Cup and became the only the third player in the history of the competition to score in consecutive Finals. In 2001 he scored in the defeat by Liverpool — the first goal to be scored in an FA Cup showpiece outside England — and then grabbed one of the Cup Final goals as Arsenal defeated Chelsea 2-0. The following year he claimed the only goal of the Semi-Final victory over Sheffield United.
Ljungberg’s penchant for scoring when the stakes were at their highest continued throughout his Highbury tenure; a Champions League brace against Juventus in 2001, the winner for 10-man Arsenal at Anfield, as well as a vital strikes against Manchester United at Highbury.
As Arsenal swept aside all before them on the way to the ‘Double’ in 2002 Ljungberg was simply phenomenal, scoring on 17 occasions in all competitions. When Pires suffered a serious knee injury before the run-in, Ljungberg stepped into the Frenchman’s position and rose to the challenge. He netted six times in five games as the title race entered its final straight, clinching 15 vital points. His Barclaycard Player of the Season award was richly deserved.
The climax to the 2001/02 campaign was probably Ljungberg’s high-water mark at Highbury. As the years progressed, injuries became an increasing threat to Ljungberg’s game, and in 2007 the Swede left for West Ham United.
Freddie made an emotional return with his new club to the Emirates on New Year’s Day 2008 where, after injury once again cut short his afternoon, he was afforded a standing ovation as he left the pitch.