Club Focus – Arsenal – Wenger gambles on Lehmann in attempt to recapture the Invincibles spirit

Arsenal find themselves in the middle of a goalkeeping crisis, with cynics suggesting that this description applies to the team as a whole. Having witnessed his side crash out of three cup competitions in a fortnight, Arsene Wenger’s decision to re-sign Jens Lehmann is either a shrewd move or a sign of desperation.

A lack of reinforcements in the January transfer window was not surprising given the manager’s propensity for summer signings, but signing a goalkeeper in March was unexpected, not least because of the player’s identity. ‘Mad Jens’ – as he is known in north London, and not always affectionately – is back for a second stint at the club just under three years after his first tenure came to an end. Seemingly, Wenger feels that the German’s presence and uncompromising, winning mentality is just what is needed to pick up his ailing squad.

Wenger will hope that another returning Invincible will have the same impact as the first. Sol Campbell’s shock return to the club quickly proved to be a shrewd move by Le Professeur as Campbell’s pace, power and professionalism bolstered an injury stricken defence at a vital time in the campaign. The other main attribute he brought was his experienced head amongst a youthful, fledgling squad. By contrast Lehmann often struggles to keep his. Capable of spectacular saves and calamitous errors in equal measure, Lehmann is hardly the calming influence many feel necessary after such a turbulent fortnight. Frequently feuding with rival goalkeepers for both club and country, the outspoken German proved a somewhat disruptive influence towards the end of his time with the club, prompting the question – what does this mean for Almunia?

Speaking to the Guardian in 2008, Almunia described just how bad relations between them had become: “To have someone here who hates me is just amazing. I know he hates me.?” The zenith of ill-feeling came when Lehmann attacked the Spaniard’s goalkeeping pedigree: “To be sitting on the bench behind somebody who only started to play when he was 30 is not funny,” said Lehmann, prompting the normally amenable Almunia to deliver an acerbic response: “I don’t care about him any more. He can say what he likes. I come into training and I work with Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone. They are better goalkeepers than him anyway.” Despite the diatribe, Lehmann never lost his love for the club. He has maintained links with the Gunners, often being spotted attending home matches and has recently been taking coaching badges at the club, allowing Wenger to assess him at close quarters. This time around he insists: “I’m looking forward to being in a back-up role and will look to support Almunia.

Having seen 40-year-old Edwin van der Sar keep the Gunners at bay on Saturday, age is not a factor for Wenger. In turning to arguably the best goalkeeper he has ever signed, Wenger appears to reason that Lehmann’s personality clashes arise out of a winning mentality. With the last fortnight highlighting the lack of this commodity within the side, the capture of ‘Mad Jens’ may not be so mad after all.

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