Swedish international Fredrik Ljungberg, who has announced his retirement from football at the age of 35, stating he was "grateful for everything football has given me", leaves the game as one of Arsenal's staunchest and most impressive performers.
"It's still fun to play the big games but when you no longer have the motivation for training then it's time to call it quits. This is a decision which has come about during a six-month absence. During my career I've played with some of the best players in the world, as well as some of the best teams. I'm grateful for everything football has given me," the former Gunner was quoted as saying.
The midfielder, who joined Arsenal in 1998 for £3m (a record fee for a Swedish international at the time), spent nine years in the club's colours, wining two league titles (2001/02 and 2003/04), three FA Cups (2002, 2003 and 2005) and three Community Shields (1999, 2002 and 2004).
An all-action goal-scoring attacker, Ljungberg finished his football career with Japanese club Shimizu S-Pulse (his contract expired in February) after spells with West Ham United, Seattle Sounders and Chicago Fire (in the US' MLS) and Celtic in the Scottish Premier League. Ljungberg made 75 appearances for his national team, scoring 14 times. He made 328 appearances for the Gunners , scoring an impressive 72 goals and has been voted the 11th best player in the history of Arsenal Football Club... a well deserved honour.
Ljungberg played down the flanks for his country but Wenger used him primarily as an attacking midfielder and the Swede's dynamism, pace and almost telepathic understanding with Dutchman Dennis Bergkamp and the French duo of Robert Pires and Thierry Henry formed the offensive half of the famous "Invincibles" team of 2003/04. More importantly, as with all great players, Ljungberg had the ability to score crucial goals for his team.
Swedish Legend Unhappy with State of Club
Ljungberg's affinity for Arsenal came through starkly in a report by the Sunday Mirror, when the former Gunner expressed his concern at the club's inability to attract world-class talent.
"All I know is that when I was at Arsenal, every summer he was able to bring in a big signing, a proven winner. Thierry Henry came as a World Cup-winner, and then Robert Pires arrived. He was also a World Cup and, like Thierry, a Euro winner as well. We were able to get Sol Campbell, who was one of the best central defenders in the world at the time. They were people who knew what it takes to win. It happened like that every year," the former Swedish Footballer of the Year explained.
"The season we went unbeaten was, I would have to say, the most memorable. We were a special squad. Everyone was an established star in his own right, but we worked as a team, as a unit. It was a great time to be at Arsenal. I just hope those days come back," he added.
Tiote the Target?
There could be some good news, then, for Ljungberg, with news Arsenal are reportedly planning a raid for Newcastle United midfielder Cheick Tiote, to replace Alex Song. The Cameroonian international signed for Catalan giants Barcelona in a £15m switch. The Mirror reports Wenger will look to reinvest that amount into persuading Alan Pardew to part with Tiote.
Unfortunately, Wenger could face quite a battle. Newcastle have managed to hold on to all their major stars from last season - Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse, Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye, among others - despite rumours of interest from almost every major club in England, and Real Madrid and Barcelona. Meanwhile, there are still rumours linking Rennes' defensive midfielder Yann M'Vila to the Emirates and after Wenger's admission the club would sign a top-class anchorman to replace Song, the Ivorian or the Frenchman could be next in at Arsenal.