Jens Lehmann is one of the most unpopular players in the history of the Premiership. Despised by opposition fans up and down the country, his angst and antics have irritated and infuriated across Europe. However, like so many of football’s infamous figures, he has always had plenty of support from his home crowd.
Roy Keane was a legend at Manchester United. Dennis Wise was idolised at Stamford Bridge. And there are probably people at Blackburn who have some degree of affection for Robbie Savage, however unlikely that sounds. At Arsenal, with the world and his wife ganging up to launch abuse at Lehmann, we’ve taken him to our hearts.
We’ve all chuckled at his bizarre warm-ups, his hilarious time-wasting and fractious temper. And indeed, he’s been an outstanding goalkeeper, making agile saves that belie his status as the club’s eldest player.
But this season, Time seems to have finally caught up with Jens. Although he has always been partial to a rash moment here or there, the opening two games of the Premier League season saw him make two massive errors that gifted goals to both Fulham and Blackburn. After another error-strewn display for Germany at Wembley, Lehmann was declared “injured”, and Manuel Almunia stepped in for the next three games.
I’m sure Lehmann did have a fitness problem of some description. However, arseblog confirmed that he did not, as Arsene claimed, return to Germany for treatment. He was in London, yet taking no part in training. I remain certain that Lehmann was no more “injured” than Thierry Henry during his lay-off last year. Arsene has said in the past:
“I always try to support my players to the world outside the club. It doesn’t mean I always agree with them. Outside, you have to keep a united front. To the world outside you can say you have seen a bad performance, but you don’t say, ‘The right-back was a complete failure’. I am responsible. I pick him. I have to stand up for that. You have to hold your nerve.”
For “right-back”, read “goalkeeper”.
In Lehmann’s absence, Almunia has done well, only being beaten by a fluke goal from Kanu. The Spaniard has improved immeasurably over the past two years, and after Lehmann’s mistakes, deserves a chance as Number 1.
However, this week, Germany manager Joachim Low has ignored Lehmann’s “injury” and picked the fiery keeper. Lehmann, who is quick to criticise the press but even quicker to use it to get a point across, has been speaking about the competition from Almunia:
“I am without a doubt mentally the strongest player at Arsenal because I have more experience. There will always be a keeper who will play better for two or three matches but I have never seen anyone do this for 10 games. I know that I have an advantage at Arsenal and that I can keep it. I don’t see any young supermen keeping me out. I have read that Almunia said he deserves to be the No.1 but until now he has not won a single important game.”
I cannot tell you how sick it makes me feel to see one squad member criticise another in public. I didn’t like Niklas Bendtner’s outburst at not being on the bench against Porsmouth, but at least he had the sense not to criticise those picked ahead of him.
Almunia might not be an internationally-recognised goalkeeper like Lehmann, but then again, he hasn’t made a mistake as big of either of Lehmann’s recent efforts for a very long time. In a season where the focus has been on our excellent team spirit, Lehmann’s antagonism towards Almunia could prove extremely unhelpful. I’m all for competition, but not causticity. If Jens had any chance of playing of White Hart Lane on Saturday, that may now have gone.
Arsene Wenger has been talking about the difficulty of controlling his “dark-side”:
“Is it anger, is it aggression, or is it a desire to be successful? Would I compromise my principles? On occasions, yes, as first and foremost, I am a winner. Where does the anger come from? My father and my mother were both quite excitable, but the postwar world in which they lived was quite a rough world. The football world is also quite rough. You have to assert your personality and you need a high level of motivation. I was always concerned about dominating my animal feeling.
You can sometimes be surprised by your bad side. I have a dark side. You want to win so much that sometimes you forget that it is as well that you respect the rules. When you don’t win, you have to acknowledge the respect of your opponents as well. Sometimes I can’t do that. It is a dark side because the perfect side would be to say, ‘Well done. You played better’. You never know, in 50 years I might achieve it.”
Scary, eh? Hopefully Hill-Wood Kenobi can help Wenger control his evil urges and keep him out of the clutches of Darth Dein, whose orange face can be seen glowing from underneath his hood even on the darkest nights.
Finally, the wonderful Gilberto Silva has been talking about Saturday’s North London Derby:
“I am not worried by Jol’s situation. That’s Tottenham’s problem and it’s logical that we want to make Tottenham suffer more. If Jol is sacked because of an Arsenal win it’s not a problem to me. I can sleep calmly.”
Gilberto: I like your thinking. Sometime-musician and wannabe-pundit Silva also gives his tactical analysis on Tottenham’s season to date:
“I notice errors in defence, less control in midfield and little success in attack.”
Spectacular. Is that the greatest interview of all time?
Enough for today. Ciao.