Ask any football fan about the Arsenal side that went 49 Premier League Games Unbeaten, or the Invincibles as they are better known, and they will talk about the likes of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira, which is fair given that these four players each performed excellently during this remarkable run.
One member of this squad who is a huge fan favorite with all Gooners, but is surprisingly underrated by fans of many other teams, is Swedish Midfielder Freddie Ljungberg. My evidence for this statement is based on a conversation with a Liverpool supporting cousin of mine, who stated that Freddie “wasn't actually that good” as we discussed our respective teams all time Premier League XI’s.
For me though, Freddie has and always will be my favorite Arsenal player. As a kid who didn't become interested in football until the age of eight, my first experience of Arsenal on the television was in a match against Manchester City, at Maine Road in April 2001.
This article first appeared on The Arsenal Collective in 2013
Arsenal ran out 4-0 winners on that occasion with Freddie scoring a couple of goals, and upon seeing both his individual performance and that of the team as a whole, I knew I had to be an Arsenal fan.
A few weeks later I thought my new hero had won us the FA Cup against Liverpool at the Millennium Stadium, only for Michael Owen to break my heart and those of all Arsenal fans across the world with two goals in the last ten minutes.
The following season was Freddie’s best, and probably my favorite (Just shading the unbelievable 2003-04 campaign) as it was my first full season as an Arsenal fan. A few weeks into the season my Dad gave me my first ever Arsenal jersey, the gold ‘SEGA’ away top, with ‘LJUNGBERG’ and the number eight on the back (A jersey I still proudly own) and I wore this every time I played football with my friends, in the hope of emulating something Freddie would do.
The one day that sticks out in my mind more so than any other as an Arsenal fan is May the 4th 2002, the day we played Chelsea in the FA Cup Final. I can still remember having butterflies in my stomach in the hours leading up to the match, hoping that history wouldn't repeat itself from the year before.
As Freddie had been in such a rich vein of form in the weeks leading up to the Final, much of the pre-match coverage was based on his performances, as well as the fact that a number of fans had adopted his trademark red-streak in their hair. I had recently bought a can of reddy-orange hair spray and persuaded my Mum to spray a red-streak in my hair, given the circumstances of the day.
Unfortunately it turned out to be much more orange than red, but this didn't deter me and obviously we all know that two absolutely cracking goals, first from Ray Parlour and secondly from the ‘man-of-the-moment’ Freddie, won the Cup for Arsenal. As soon as the match was over and Tony Adams and Patrick lifted the Cup, I ran outside trying to emulate Freddie’s unbelievable finish against my cousins.
Alas, the 2001-02 campaign, in which he scored an incredible 17 goals in all competitions, proved to be the high-point in Freddie’s career, as injuries slowly began to take their toll.
With that being said, he was a hugely important part of the Invincibles squad and remained a crucial first team player (Vital goals against Tottenham and Inter Milan in November 2003, and his last Arsenal goal against Bolton in February 2007 spring to mind) until his departure to West Ham in the summer of 2007 (a day on which I am not ashamed to admit I shed a tear), and thankfully he has been afforded a brilliant reception every time he has returned to the Emirates, showing that if a player shows loyalty and love for the club and fans, they will definitely get it back.
So back to the point I made in the opening, maybe my cousin was right, and maybe Freddie wasn't as good as the likes of Thierry, Robert and Dennis, but what he did have was unbelievable character and fight, as well as a knack for always being in the right place at the right time, and for that reason he will always be a legend for Arsenal Football Club and my hero.