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Page last updated at 08:06 GMT, Monday, 23 November 2009

Ljungberg wants to see Arsenal steel

Champions League: Arsenal v Standard Liege
Venue: Emirates Stadium Date: Tuesday 24 November Kick-off: 1945 GMT
Coverage: BBC Sport website, BBC Radio 5 live and Sky Sports Extra

Freddie Ljungberg

By Mandeep Sanghera

Freddie Ljungberg knows all the questions about Arsenal's durability. Do they have substance to go with their undoubted style? Character as well as creativity? Depth as well as desire? In short, when the going gets tough, can Arsenal get going?

A 1-0 Premier League defeat by Sunderland on Saturday suggested not - but the coming months will provide a definitive answer as to whether Arsene Wenger's side have the steel to go with their scintillating football.

"The main test is when the winter comes and the pitches get a little bit worse and it gets a bit more physical," said Ljungberg, the former Arsenal midfielder now enjoying life with Major League Soccer side Seattle Sounders in the United States.

Former Arsenal defenders Sol Campbell (left), Tony Adams (centre) and Martin Keown
Martin Keown, Tony Adams or Sol Campbell were on us that we had to tackle and dig in

"When I was there it was always hard when the winter came - you had to roll up your sleeves to get the dirty work done.

"A couple of times in the past they have dropped points on those sort of occasions, but I hope this year will be different."

Ljungberg, still only 32, scored on his Arsenal debut in a 3-0 win over Manchester United after joining for what proved to be a bargain £3m transfer fee from Halmstad in September 1998.

The midfielder went on to score 72 goals in 328 appearances, and his bustling all-action style and commitment to the Arsenal cause won him plenty of admirers - and plenty of trophies.

Ljungberg, who won two Premier League titles and three FA Cups in his time with the Gunners, highlights the importance of having players in the side who relish the more attritional nature of the game.

"We had some players who, if they wanted to be, could be very physical," said the former Sweden international.

"Martin Keown, Tony Adams or Sol Campbell - they were not small boys - and were on us that we had to tackle and dig in.

"It was always something that we were wary about as we loved to play football on the floor, but sometimes when you went away to Bolton it was never on the floor.


"At the same time, three points is three points, and you just had to battle."

Ljungberg is confident Wenger can address Arsenal's shortcomings when it comes to durability.

"Arsene has always been a brilliant manager," he said. "In the last couple of years, he has seen the problem and tried to fix it.

"Sometimes you have to think 'I don't care if we play nice football today, we just have to dig in and tackle even if it is not my game'."

Arsenal play Belgium's Standard Liege in the Champions League on Tuesday and will be expected to get the point needed to secure their place in the knockout stages.

A home game against Premier League leaders Chelsea will follow on Sunday, when Arsenal's title credentials, after a four-year run without silveware, will undergo further examination.

"It is a good thing that Arsene has belief but at Arsenal if you don't win something for four seasons then you will get a bit of stick," said Ljungberg.

"When I first went to Arsenal, I think it was Pat Rice who told me 'just so you know, if you do not win a trophy here every season it is not good enough'. I got that banged into my head.

"I understand if there has been a bit of criticism because they are a big club, but, at the same time, Arsene has kept faith in the players and I hope that is going to pay off now."

The injury problems which plagued Ljungberg during the latter part of his Premier League career at Arsenal and West Ham appear to be behind him.

His team may have gone out in the MLS play-offs, but he was voted into the league's team of the year.

"It's been great," said the ever amiable Ljungberg of his time in the US. "It has been an adventure and I have seen and learned a lot in terms of the differences between Europe and America.

"The new franchises here normally get regularly beaten but we have have won a lot so that has been great."

However, even as he enjoys his newfound liberty across the Atlantic, Ljungberg has his one nagging regret about his Arsenal career.

The club and Wenger have yet to win Europe's premier competition, though they came desperately close in the 2006 Champions League final, losing to Barcelona in Paris.

A dejected Freddie Ljungberg after Arsenal were beaten by Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final
At one point I had to have a mental sit down with myself and try to let the 2006 Champions League final defeat go so I could concentrate on the World Cup

Reduced to 10 men after 18 minutes, Arsenal led courtesy of a 37th-minute goal from Sol Campbell only for Barcelona to equalise after 76 minutes and then score the winner four minutes later.

"It was hard and I still am a bit angry that the first equaliser was offside," recalled Ljungberg. "I still think about it now.

"It was hard. I was disappointed for a long time. We played the World Cup straight afterwards and at one point I had to have a mental talk to myself and try to let it go so I could concentrate on the World Cup.

"It takes time after going that close and I think we played so well.

"It hurt us. I won everything but that trophy, and it annoys me. We had great opportunities in other years when we played really well and got knocked out on away goals in the last minute and stuff like that."

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Van Persie faces six-week lay-off
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