Freddie Ljungberg hailed “amazing” Bukayo Sako for inspiring Arsenal’s fightback at Standard Liege – but joked that the teenager had initially been miffed by the role he was asked to play.
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Interim boss Ljungberg deployed a back three in the game, with Saka forced into an unfamiliar left wing-back role, and while revealing the youngster at first seemed unimpressed, Ljungberg was left thrilled by his performance.
“(Saka) was amazing,” Ljungberg said after the game. “I think he was a bit upset with me before the game that he had to play wing-back and then full-back because he doesn’t like it so much!
“But no, he’s a tremendous talent and you could see it here again. His final ball and the last bit is always effective and there’s always an end product to his work.
“I felt sorry sometimes for our young players because a lot of them have not been on loan. So they haven’t got that exposure to play 90 minutes of men’s football for a longer period of time.
“So I felt in this game that I wanted to get them on the pitch to get that experience, because I know how good they are but they just don’t have experience and some of them, yes, they made some mistakes today.
“But I think from those mistakes they won’t redo them and that’s invaluable for them and we won the group. Bukayo did tremendous to go back to that (playing wing-back).”
Saka: Beautiful night
Saka admitted it was a “beautiful” feeling to make such an impact – and said confidence was growing in the camp.
“It was beautiful for me because that is what I am judged on, scoring and assisting, so to score and to make one is a good night,” he told Arsenal’s official website.
“We feel we are taking a lot of confidence. In our last game in the Premier League (against West Ham) we won, and while we didn’t win here we came back. We always keep our heads and try to get a result because we knew what the stakes were and that if we lost we could possibly be out.
“It’s a good feeling because on the pitch we didn’t know (the result in the Frankfurt game) and were pushing for the third goal to try to win the game but Freddie was trying to tell us that Frankfurt were down. Everyone came into the changing room after and found out we were top of the group.”
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Saka steps up for Ljungberg
Analysis from Sky Sports’ Oli Yew:
With a Premier League clash against Manchester City – live on Sky Sports on Sunday – on the horizon for Freddie Ljungberg, the Swede took a bit of a gamble in Liege, fielding a number of youngsters as the Gunners looked to secure top spot in Group F.
Arsenal vs Man City
December 15, 2019, 4:00pm
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Midway through the second half it was a gamble that looked to have backfired with Standard Liege two goals to the good and Eintracht Frankfurt beating Vitoria Guimaraes in the game’s other group.
Finishing second in the group – and potentially drawing the likes of Inter Milan and Ajax – was looking more and more likely – until Bukayo Saka (and Vitoria!) intervened. Saka has made no secret of the role Ljungberg, who coached a number of Arsenal youngsters during his time with club’s academy, has played in his development and the 18-year-old stepped up for his mentor.