Jens Lehmann’s return may bolster Arsenal’s title aspirations

Jens Lehmann was thrust into the limelight once more when Manuel Almunia injured a knee in the warm-up ahead of the Blackpool match. Upon his return to the squad, the German insisted he backed the No 1 and would put personal differences aside, yet there is likely to have been a certain element of schadenfreude as he was handed an unlikely start.

Although the veteran’s return to the Arsenal goal came as a shock to many, the ever-confident keeper will have expected nothing less. Evidently uncomfortable on the bench in his first stint at the club, age is unlikely to have mellowed the fiery German’s temperament – certainly on Sunday’s evidence, he still maintains that edge to his game. In re-signing Lehmann just under a month ago, Wenger decided to stick with what he knew in times of difficulty and the late withdrawal of Almunia meant he had little choice but to do so again. Despite playing in his first Arsenal game in nearly three years and his first competitive match since he formally retired last summer, Lehmann displayed two key commodities perceived to be lacking from the Gunners’ goalkeeping department – fitness and presence.

The former is rendered crucial by the respective injuries to Wojciech Szczesny, Lukasz Fabianski and now Manuel Almunia. The latter has been missing between the sticks for Arsenal as they have stumbled to a poor run of results since losing the Carling Cup Final to Birmingham City. Prior to Sunday’s match the record read one win, three draws and two defeats in their last six with various instances of indecisive goalkeeping punctuating the sequence. With Lehmann’s return, Arsenal have re-gained the presence that has been sorely lacking since Szczesny dislocated a finger against Barcelona a month ago, and have acquired the kind of big-match experience the young Pole can only dream of at his tender age.

For such an outspoken character, Lehmann’s return was relatively inconspicuous, with his involvement reflected in moments of pathetic fallacy at Bloomfield Road. During the first half, the veteran goalkeeper remained in the shadows both metaphorically as well as literally, with his side coasting to a 2-0 half-time lead. The turnaround for the second half forced Lehmann into the light and Blackpool’s spirited start to the second half prompted the German into action. In conceding what turned out to be a consolation, Lehmann evoked memories of the 2006 Champions League final defeat to Barcelona as he wiped out the onrushing Luke Varney. Now, unlike then, the referee waved play on, affording him the opportunity to later excel himself in a one-on-one with DJ Campbell. Whilst his reflexes have dulled slightly, he exercised his infamous outspoken nature to marshal the defence and provide more effective cover to compensate.

Unlike some of Arsenal’s recent goalkeepers, Lehmann presents an answer rather than a question, albeit a temporary one. With title rivals Manchester United relying heavily on the 40-year-old Edwin van der Sar, there is no reason Arsenal cannot challenge with Lehmann in goal.

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