Freddie Ljungberg spoke glowingly about Arsenal’s 18-year-old sensation Bukayo Saka after his burst secured qualification as group winners, and revealed his thoughts on an Arsenal game plan that bears fruit late in games.
The Gunners fought back from two goals down to secure a 2-2 draw versus Standard Liege, a result sufficient enough to guarantee their progression to the round of 32 as group winners.
For long periods of time the outlook appeared bleak for the visitors, but a sensational four minute spell from 18-year-old Bukayo Saka turned the game on its head.
Firstly, Saka whipped in a teasing cross to which Alexandre Lacazette duly nodded home, then neat interplay with Gabriel Martinelli presented Saka with the opportunity to hit a curling effort inside the far post from the edge of the area.
Manager Ljungberg beamed with praise following Saka’s match-defining effort, stating: “He was amazing. He was a bit upset with me before the game that he had to play wing-back and full-back. He’s a tremendous talent.
“His final ball and last bit is always effective.
“I feel sorry for our young players. A lot of them haven’t been on loan, they’ve not had that exposure to men’s football.
“Some of them made mistakes but they’ll learn from those mistakes and won’t do them again.
“Bukayo had a tremendous night.”
A key difference in the Gunners’ approach since Ljungberg arrived has been their greater emphasis on retaining possession.
The tactic has often drawn criticism, however, with Arsenal players often appearing to be lacking a cutting edge while on the ball.
The Swede revealed this change is deliberate, with the second half goals against West Ham and Standard Liege proving its effectiveness.
“I believe that even in the first half against West Ham and today we tried to have possession. Maybe it’s a bit slow but it wears the opponents down,” said Ljungberg.
“That pace in the end of games, people get tired and get out of position. Maybe when opponents get tired you get that extra metre.”
Arsenal has a special place in Ljungberg’s heart after the Swede spent nine years of his playing career with the club.
Speaking on the rollercoaster of emotions involved with managing the Gunners, Ljungberg said: “It’s a mixture of every emotion I’ve ever felt. When we won the other day and qualified today it’s a nice feeling.
“I try to do the job as well as I can but that’s part of work. I enjoy it but the main thing is we won this group, we won the other day.
“The club can move on, I go from day to day and game to game.”