At first glance, the last few months at Arsenal have been nothing short of frustrating.
Suffering defeat in the Europa League final meant they were lumped with a measly transfer budget and left facing yet another season without Champions League football.
And because of that, they’ve struggled to complete deals for both Wilfried Zaha and Kieran Tierney.
Yet, on the basis of pre-season, there are positives, not least in beating Bayern Munich and drawing with Real Madrid.
However, it was a particular contingent of players whom featured in those wins that suggest a huge summer change at Arsenal is already paying off.
Earlier in the off-season, the Gunners decided to promote Invincible Freddie Ljungberg to the senior coaching staff, a role that would help to bridge the gap between first team and youth team football.
After the way Steve Bould had struggled to have an impact, this was a welcome change to the coaching setup as he stepped down to help with the academy.
In a summer when Arsenal were always going to struggle to land big money targets, the Swede is helping to pave the way for a new team, one reinvigorated by youth, something we’ve seen in pre-season.
Eddie Nketiah, a player who has found it difficult to achieve first-team minutes, is already reaping the rewards after scoring against Bayern and Fiorentina, whilst we’ve also seen goals from Joe Willock and James Olayinka.
The latter is unlikely to be known by many around the club but he burst onto the scene with a cleanly struck goal from outside of the box against Colorado Rapids.
The midfielder is a talent who is very much understated having never appeared in the first team before pre-season.
But that’s the difference Ljungberg is making, and in the process of helping the stars of tomorrow achieve a quicker and more efficient route into the first team, he could help save the Islington club money in this market and indeed in further windows too.
Another talent in Robbie Burton has also enjoyed his first taste of senior team football in America. He, unfortunately, missed a penalty against Madrid in the shoot-out but he’s looked cool and composed in the middle of the park.
He wasn’t even a player Unai Emery was aware of, though. During pre-season, he told The Telegraph: “Above all he [Ljungberg] is helping us with the young players because he knows better than us every young player.
“For example with Robbie [Burton] – I did not know Robbie. Freddie said to me that he is a good player with the capacity to play as a six or an eight.”
It’s refreshing to see someone so familiar with the young players involved with senior team matters and that should only benefit the Gunners going forward.
After all, Ljungberg has been inundated with praise during Arsenal’s stay in the US.
Talented winger Bukayo Saka, who earned his first-team debut last term, had the following to say about the Arsenal legend: “Freddie helps Unai know who we are, tells him our strengths and weaknesses and comes to us individually and tells us what we need to do from Unai.
“It makes the transition from the academy to the first team much smoother.”
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Saka is one of the trailblazers in this Arsenal side. He racked up 14 goals and 12 assists at youth level in 2018/19 and with Emile Smith Rowe looking as though he could depart on loan, there could be an opening for the teenager.
Nonetheless, he is another player to have his say on Ljungberg, telling Football London: “It’s a bit surreal working with a legend like Freddie”
That is indicative of the level of respect the former Sweden international commands in north London.
He is a player who had a wonderful influence during one of the greatest periods in Arsenal’s history, so it’s no surprise to see the younger players hold him in such high regard.
With Ljungberg the foundations are being laid for a greater future, one which could help to banish the memories of losing talented individuals like Serge Gnabry and Chris Willock to teams abroad.
Arsenal’s seed has now been planted. How it grows will be fascinating to see, but at the moment, it looks like budding into a bright pink rose, rather than your common garden weed.
So far, this has been a masterstroke from the Gunners.