By Rob Stewart
Former Arsenal winger Freddie Ljungberg believes the Gunners’ fall from grace could be down to former vice-chairman's David Dein's absence from the corridors of power at the Emirates.
Dein is widely credited with being the architect of a period of success that saw Arsenal claim three Premier League titles, and for Ljungberg it is telling that his departure from the vice-chairman’s office has coincided with a downturn in fortunes that could be hastened when Tottenham pay their arch-rivals a visit on Sunday.
“If you are going to be frank you would have to say that this season is not good enough because they are 10 points behind Spurs and 17 behind the leaders [Manchester City] and that is not what Arsenal are familiar with,” Ljungberg told Goal.com.
“It is difficult to say what exactly has gone wrong. It has been seven years without a trophy and so there will be lots of reasons for that. But I remember when we spoke in the dressing room and stuff like that and David Dein was almost like a link between the boardroom and Arsene.
“Mr Dein was always there and we felt there was a guy who always knew how important it was to get new players in. When he disappeared I think it shifted a little bit in how they approached things.”
Dein not only hired Wenger but also sealed deals for the likes of Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Sol Campbell, Gilberto, Kolo Toure, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie as well as Ljungberg himself.
“Now they develop players at a much younger age whereas before they bought players like Gilberto who had already won the World Cup and had plenty of experience and then there was Sylvain Wiltord and Robert Pires, who had made it with France,” added Ljungberg, who scored 72 goals in 328 appearances for Arsenal, and is ranked 11th in the list of all-time Gunners greats as voted for by the club's fans.
“It is good to develop young players, especially economy-wise, but maybe sometimes you need an older figure such a Patrick Vieira to lean on. That would be someone who has been there and has won the Premier League.”
Dein quit Arsenal due to what were called "irreconcilable differences" with the club’s board in 2007, and now the 34-year-old Ljungberg, who spent 10 years at Arsenal, wants majority shareholder Stan Kroenke to open up to supporters.
“Arsenal fans want Stan Kroenke, the owner, to come out and speak of his vision for the club and what he wants and what he wants to spend and stuff like that and I personally think that is quite an interesting thing,” Ljungberg continued.
“Maybe it would be great to have the development of young players but still have the spending power to get the player that you want regardless. But we have to wait and see but I am an Arsenal fan and I don’t think any of us is happy with not having a trophy for seven years.
“I still have faith in Arsene Wenger. Arsenal was a great club before he took over as manager but he changed the way they played and their thoughts and philosophies behind it and achieved great success with it.
“It is easy to call for Arsene’s head but maybe there are other things behind it that we don’t know about. That is why it would be interesting to hear the owner speak.”
Ljungberg, who is now a free agent following his release by Japanese side Shimizu S-Pulse, helped Arsenal win two Premier League titles and three FA Cups when silverware was coming thick and fast, but the Gunners have not won a trophy in seven years.
“I remember I had been at Arsenal for two days and Pat Rice told me that at Arsenal you had to win one trophy every year or otherwise it is not good enough,” Ljungberg said.
“Of course it has been great that they have been in the Champions League all the time because everyone enjoys watching it but it is always a lot more fun to win things.
“The trouble is football goes up and down and hopefully soon it goes up for Arsenal again. They might not win a trophy this season but I definitely think they can still qualify for the Champions League and I hope so as well.”
Ljungberg is hoping that victory over Tottenham can prompt an upturn at Arsenal but is concerned about the threat posed by former Gunners striker Emmanuel Adebayor.
“They can certainly beat Tottenham and they have home advantage so I am optimistic,” he added.
“If they do beat Spurs it will give everyone – the fans, the staff and the players - a great lift because the last couple of weeks have been so bad so and it would bring a positive spin around the club.
“Harry Redknapp has developed the Spurs team really well. They play a lot more offensively than they used to and they have good players so there can be no question that they are playing fine football but I think the signing on loan of Emmanuel Adebayor has made a big difference to them.
“He has brought to Spurs a dimension that they have never had before where he is a big man up front who can get on the end of long balls, win possession and hold the ball up if they need.
"But as well as being a threat in the air he is a very good footballer as well as he showed against Newcastle when he set up all their goals and scored one himself.
“He can turn and go behind the back line as well and go at players so getting him from Manchester City has made them a step better this season than they were last year.
“He might not be too popular with Arsenal fans after everything that has happened but I am sure that Tottenham fans think the world of him and they will think even more of him if he manages to score the winner. But I don’t think that will happen. I think Arsenal will raise their game and win 3-1.”
Freddie Ljungberg was speaking at the launch of the Barclays Global Fans Survey. For more information visit www.barclaysfootball.com.