September 12, 1998: Freddie becomes a Gunner

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History

Greatest 50 Players - 11. Freddie Ljungberg

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. Wenger moved quickly in securing Freddie’s services but, after his outstanding entrance against United, the Swede suffered with abdominal and ankle injuries.

Greatest 50 Players - 11 Freddie Ljungberg

However, the Gunners didn’t have to wait too long before Ljungberg’s 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 tough 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 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.

This list of 50 Gunners Greatest Players was determined by tens of thousands of Arsenal fans from across the world. The vote took place on the club’s official website in 2008. To help prevent multiple voting by a single person, only registered members of Arsenal.com could take part.

Interview

'Freddie’s character was key to his signing'

Even though he was only watching the game on television, Arsène Wenger knew he had witnessed something special.

England had travelled to Solna for a crucial European Championship qualifier against Sweden back in September 1998, but their experienced defenders were being run ragged by a fresh-faced 21-year-old called Freddie Ljungberg.
 
Sweden would go on to win the match 2-1 but the result didn’t matter to Wenger. The only thing on his mind after watching Ljungberg’s performance was securing the youngster’s signature as soon as possible.
 
“In this game, it was all his character,” the manager told Arsenal Player. “They played that game in Sweden on a Saturday and then we bought him the next week because I liked what he did, his character.
 
“He gave Martin Keown a torturous time in that match, took him on and I must say he’s a guy who strikes you straight away when you see him play. I remember I bought him on against Manchester United and he scored. I was thinking that when your guy comes on, you always have a feeling straight away whether it’s his place there.
 
“Usually we think you have to give them time but with experience, you think that the guys who make it showed you that they had the quality to be there in their first game. Freddie had that, that decisiveness in his mind and that desire to win. He was an exceptional footballer and also an exceptional mind.
 
“Freddie is a winner and a guy who gives everything to the team. When he didn’t win, he was sick, really sick. I like the quality of his attitude, the quality of his commitment and of course what he has done for our club is absolutely sensational.
 
“To add to that, I would like to say that it shows you how football moves forward. We bought him for £3m! That kind of quality you got at that time for £3m… I leave you to imagine how much that would cost today!”