Something strange happened in Sunday’s early kick-off between Arsenal and Blackpool. Arsenal found themselves without any of their four first-choice goalkeepers – having instead to rely upon a 41-year-old German who nobody in their right mind thought would ever play in the Premier League again. Jens Lehmann was called into action just moments before kick-off when keeper incumbent Manuel Almunia picked up a knee injury whilst warming up.
I’m sure Arsenal fans were full with a mix of joy at seeing their beloved German goalkeeper once more and trepidation at the possibility of the 41-year-old being creaky and not cut out for the rigours of the Premier League any more. As it happened, they needn’t have worried – the Gunners churned out some of their best attacking football for quite some time and ended the tie with a 3-1 victory.
When questioned about Jens’ return, Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere told the press: “He was brilliant. He was only called in 10 minutes before kick-off but it was great to have him around. He’s been there, done it all and was part of the ‘Invincibles’ so he knows what it takes to win the title. And we want to be like the ‘Invincibles’ too.”
‘Brilliant’, I think, is a strong word. I’m not questioning his ability to motivate Arsenal’s players, nor that Jens adds a large amount of experience to Arsenal’s squad. I would question, however, if Lehmann’s performance was quite as ‘brilliant’ as Jack and many other Arsenal fans would like to make out.
Controlling your penalty area is one thing – something we all knew Jens is capable of, but he did have a couple of dodgy moments. I don’t want to appear overly critical but on the other hand I don’t want to see too much faith poured in the direction of a 41-year-old who has been out of the game for quite some time. Jens Lehmann is not a solution to Arsenal’s goalkeeping woes – not in the long term and not in the short term.
The fact that he marshalled the Gunners to a victory against relegation threatened Blackpool, won’t make me any less nervous next time I see his name on the Arsenal team-sheet. How will he fare against the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham – against teams who can apply consistent pressure on the Arsenal goalmouth?
Jens made a couple of good saves on Sunday but he also demonstrated that old habits die hard. By the letter of the law he should have been sent off when he brought DJ Campbell down as he raced towards goal (recalling, of course, the Arsenal-Barcelona Champions League final in 2006) but referee Lee Mason waved play on and Taylor-Fletcher slotted home Blackpool’s only goal of the afternoon.
At the risk of appearing too negative, I want to make it clear that a couple of decent saves aside, when it came to fulfilling his role as a goalkeeper (and not as a motivator/leader) Jens looked shaky. It’s my hope, that Arsenal don’t have to rely on the German too much for the remainder of the season.
Read more of Harry’s articles at ThisIsFutbol.com