Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Ljungberg: Time to Forget Friends

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Ljungberg: Time to Forget Friends

Article excerpt

Byline: MICHAEL HART

AS befits a coach who once worked in Japan, Arsene Wenger smiles inscrutably when asked about Sunday's World Cup clash between England and Sweden.

His neutral status ensures a degree of objectivity but, when pressed, he confesses more than a passing interest. At least four of his Arsenal team, Double winners last season, could be in action and one of them, he thinks, could shape the pattern of the game.

Wenger has never disguised his admiration for Fredrik Ljungberg, the Arsenal midfielder who is hoping to recover from a hip injury in time to face England in Saitama.

Wenger signed Ljungberg in September 1998 three days after watching him in action for the first time.

"He played for the Swedish team that beat England 2-1 in Stockholm," recalled the Arsenal manager, working as a TV pundit in Japan where he managed Grampus Eight before moving to Highbury.

"I was impressed by his hunger for the ball and his directness. I liked the way he picked the ball up and immediately ran at defenders as if they weren't there. You see in the way he plays how much he wants to be a success. His style is special. His body language tells you that he wants to be a winner."

That desire for success was never more apparent than this season. Ljungberg drove Arsenal forward from midfield, scored goals, created goals and demonstrated the defiant spirit that Highbury fans have grown to appreciate over the years.

"When I moved him out to the left side of midfield he was worried that he might no longer score goals," said Wenger. "But in a sense it was an advantage because when he turns inside he's on his favoured right foot and ready to shoot."

In the climax to Arsenal's remarkable season the Swede scored six goals in 13 consecutive Premiership victories. That run of results gave Arsenal the title and his goal in the 2-0 win over Chelsea at Cardiff helped win the FA Cup Final.

His contribution to Arsenal's Double triumph makes him the Evening Standard Footballer of the Month for May, the second time he's won the award this season. …

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