Watch out for what Fredrik Ljungberg does next to his hair should Arsenal lose to Southampton today. Not that there will be much of it on view at the Millennium Stadium. The draw against Bolton Wanderers in the Premiership – which cost Arsenal the title – saw to that. "I was very angry so I told my friend to cut it off," says the 26-year-old Swedish international who, in last year's final, had a vivid red streak through his locks which was lovingly copied by Arsenal fans. Now he has the severest of crew cuts.
Ljungberg takes a lot of care over his appearance although he obviously thinks little of Arsenal's sober grey Cup final suits. All they evince is a disapproving wince. "There was some comment that they wanted me to do the suit, but they voted me down," he says as he sits at the club's London Colney training ground dressed in full rock-star mode: black ruffed silk shirt, patterned jeans and a huge silver cross dangling from his neck. Fashion is clearly his passion.
Ljungberg has been able to indulge in it more than he would like to this season. Injury has seen to that. But, with the immaculate timing he reserves for those late-runs into the penalty area, he scored a hat-trick – his first for Arsenal – against Sunderland in the last league game of the season to guarantee a starting place in Cardiff. And, following goals against Liverpool and Chelsea, there is the incentive of becoming the first player to score in three successive finals. "Of course it would be very nice, and I would be very happy to be in the history books," the midfielder says. "So if we are leading at the end I may be shooting from every angle." For Arsenal fans there is the added incentive that, if he does score, he will surpass Tottenham Hotspur's Bobby Smith in the Cup final scoring record books.
Not that Ljungberg is worrying too much. "When I get prizes and stuff I give them to my mother," he says. "I don't really like to see them. When I get older it will be something I will proud of but, when you are in the middle of it, you just want to focus on the games." If Arsenal fail to beat Southampton today, then Ljungberg will not be shipping any medals at all from this season back to his family home in the small town of Vittsjo.
Not so long ago he and his team-mates were dreaming of a treble. "We would love to win the Cup, but it won't make up for it," Ljungberg says. "The boss said what out targets were this season and we have not fulfilled them – so even if we win I will not be totally satisfied with this season because we lost the Premiership and did not go as far as we wanted to in the Champions' League." Clearly frustrated, he adds: "I am angry, I am still angry. We did not win the Championship but were leading it the whole way and then in the end we did some stupid results. That is what I am a bit upset about." There has been a lot of introspection going on at Arsenal in recent days. The prognosis, coming from the players themselves, seems to be that they became careless – the heady football of the autumn perhaps left them feeling that, well, this game is just too easy.
"Maybe sometimes we switch off too much when we lose the ball," admits Ljungberg. "We need to keep concentrated and take responsibility not to concede goals." He agrees that Arsenal have also, perhaps, been hustled a little too easily. "Sometimes during the season we have not been able to play our game and there has been a lot of balls in the air, a lot of fighting for it," Ljungberg says. "You need to take that extra step to be the champions and we need to think about that for next season."
No side fights harder than Southampton, who defeated Arsenal in the league at St Mary's stadium. "They played their game plan with the long ball and physical and we did not put our foot in and try to beat them at that and we lost," Ljungberg says. It was very different at Highbury a few days ago – 6-1 to Arsenal then – and although both clubs fielded severely depleted teams, Ljungberg says the football played ("on the floor") suited the FA Cup holders.
His assessment is unkind on his opponents today. Southampton are no long-ball merchants. Nevertheless he knows two of their players well: his fellow Swedes Anders and Michael Svensson, team-mates of his in the national side. "I spoke to Michael when he came up to London and he played in the reserves in the same team [Halmstad] when I played in Sweden. So I knew him from before," says Ljungberg. "I think that especially for Michael the Premier League suits him very well. Maybe there is a bit more of a long-ball game and for him that is perfect – he is brilliant in the air and a very physical player and I think he has had a great season.
"And then Anders is a bit more technical and he has had injuries as well, but he is doing well. I have wished them well for the game – but not too much." So which one of the pin-ups of Swedish football – Anders Svensson or Ljungberg – will be supported most back home today? "I don't know, but I know Arsenal have a lot of supporters in Sweden and Scandinavia," he says.
Ljungberg agrees it has been a "stop-start" season for him personally and, indeed, he has played just 170 minutes of Arsenal's FA Cup campaign this season – finishing just one match, the semi-final against Sheffield United. "Of course that is not what you want to have but that is football sometimes. But when I have been fit it has gone well and I have felt good to play. In a season you want to have a flow that you just keep on playing. Unfortunately I have not had it with the injuries, but at the end now I can look forward to the Cup final." There will not be any nerves this morning, he says. "You wake up with a smile. When you look out of the hotel window you see a lot of fans and it is a great atmosphere. I always feel it is a privilege to play the big games. I don't see the point of getting really nervous because there are so many millions of people who want to play."
Indeed, as his record shows, he has been the man for the big occasion. "I don't know why people tell me that," Ljungberg says. "Maybe it is because it is a bit more fun." After the disappointment of this season that is all this Mr Angry wants – and a winner's medal – to send back home.Reuse content