Freddie – Arsenal’s Secret Sauce?

September 28, 2019

Can anyone remember the last time we had such a good crop of home-grown young players?

I’ve been wracking my brains (doesn’t take long) and I’d have to go all the way back to the George Graham era, when the likes of Rocastle, Thomas, Merson, Adams, Hayes, Davis and yes, even Perry Groves all came through together.

Prior to that it’s probably the wonderful Dublin connection that brought us O’Leary, Brady and Stapleton all at the same time in the early 1970s

We have had many “promising” youngsters over the years who shine for a while but seldom make the grade (Frimpong, Traore, Akpom, Hoyte… add your own suggestions).

Some one-offs have broken through (Gibbs, Wilshere) but there has not been – until now – that sense of a unit of contemporary players who have come through the Academy together and all look capable of commanding a first team place.

A reasonable question is why now?

Have we just been lucky? Have our junior talent scouts upped their game? Has coaching improved at the Academy? Is there something in the water?

It’s a tough one to answer without detailed inside knowledge, but Rasp made an interesting comment on Wednesday as we all basked in the satisfaction of thrashing Notts Forest. He said: “I’m beginning to love Freddie as a coach as much as I did as a player … he must take a lot of credit for the emerging players after his work in the academy … our next Arsenal manager? …. is it too early to hope?”

Leaving aside whether Freddie Ljungberg could be a future Head Coach for us, can he take credit (or at least share the credit) for the development of players like Willock, Nelson, Saka, Smith-Rowe, Nketieh and others?

The former red-haired one joined as an Academy coach on July 12th2016, working under Andries Jonker. At that time the young stars now breaking into our first team were aged 15 or 16, so they most certainly would have worked with Freddie and built a rapport with him. And they would have known enough about him to grasp what an Arsenal legend he is.

However, the story is not that simple. Because by March 2017 Freddie was gone. Jonker was lured away to be the new manager of Vfl Wolfsburg and he took the Fredster with him. Freddie’s spell with the Academy was just eight and a half months.

Things didn’t work out for Jonker at Wolfsburg. Within six months of arriving he was given the chop along with his coaching team, including Ljungberg. But Arsenal had obviously liked what they’d seen when Freddie was at the Academy and he was soon back as Under 23 coach, starting in June last year. A year after that he was promoted to the first team coaching set-up.

So yes, Freddie can take some credit for having influenced the current crop of young Gunners. Certainly the continuity for them of having been coached by him at youth level and now at senior level must have its advantages.

But perhaps the overlooked man in all this is Andries Jonker, who has not had a job since getting the boot at Wolfsburg. It is generally accepted  within Arsenal that it was Jonker who completely overhauled our Academy coaching structure when he arrived at the start of the 2014/15 season.

He changed the way players were educated within the club, which meant they could spend more time at the training ground in each other’s company. He was also instrumental in the building of the new training facilities at Hale End, where three pitches were put aside exclusively for Academy use.

So really it’s Jonker, not Freddie who is the secret sauce behind the emergence of our new generation, even though Freddie was one of the ingredients in that sauce.

If you have an alternative theory as to why the new crop are doing so well, I’d love to hear it.

And also, what do you feel about the Academy now being in the hands of the BFG? To answer my own question, I couldn’t be more thrilled. Per Mertesacker was one of the most intelligent players (and men) we have had at the club for years, as well as being an outstanding defender, a great captain and apparently a figure who was liked and respected by all. If he can build on the Jonker (and Freddie) foundations, then our Academy should be able to provide a conveyer belt of future first teamers for years to come.