Are Arsenal trying to revive the spirit of the Invincibles?
Bringing back Jens Lehmann seems a desperate measure - but these are desperate times at the Emirates
NEVER go back. That is what so many players say, and it is a mantra Arsene Wenger has always lived by.
But by this weekend it appears that Jens Lehmann will be registered again as an Arsenal player and even on the substitutes bench at the Hawthorns.
Even in this age of players swapping clubs for ridiculous sums, earning almost as much and some even shooting interns, there can’t have been too many more surprising stories in the football world of late.
“Arsenal currently have a goalkeeping crisis and I would like to help out,” admitted Lehmann on Tuesday.
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“I was a Sky analyst in Barcelona and was present when [Wojciech] Szczesny injured his finger. I did not even dream that Arsenal would then come and get me.”
But come and get him they have, in an astonishing twist that puts even the return of Sol Campbell last season into the shade.
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Lehmann left Arsenal in the summer of 2008, after which he spent two years back in Germany with Stuttgart before retiring last May.
He is 41 years old and has not played a game for almost 10 months, and yet he could conceivably be playing in the Premier League again this weekend.
That would only happen if Manuel Almunia was either injured or sent off, although the Spaniard – Arsenal’s only remaining fit keeper – may feel tempted to head for the hills himself at the sight of his former adversary Lehmann.
Their relationship was surely amongst the most combustible ever known among team-mates. “He hates me,” admitted Almunia in 2008. “It’s amazing to come to work every day knowing that.”
Lehmann rarely spoke about the subject but the keeper with whom he battled for the No1 spot at Arsenal between 2004, when he was first dropped for the Spaniard, and 2008 when he finally left, knew about his stony silences only too well.
The German, who had already had an equally explosive relationship with his international team-mate, and rival, Oliver Kahn, always refused to even acknowledge that Almunia could be chosen ahead of him.
However, age has maybe mellowed the player who became known as ‘crazy Jens’ for madcap antics spanning a 20-year career at the top level that saw him win more enemies than friends.
“This time I’m looking forward to being in a back-up role and will look to support Almunia,” he underlined earlier this week. “We can still win the title.”
That is something Lehmann certainly knows how to do.
Having arrived at Highbury in the summer of 2003, the former Borussia Dortmund keeper played all but one of the record 49-game unbeaten run, and went through his entire first season in 2003-04 without losing a Premier League game.
He didn’t taste defeat until the infamous 2-0 loss at Old Trafford in October 2004, a defeat for which he exacted perfect revenge seven months later when he kept United at bay almost single-handedly in Cardiff to win the FA Cup.
In this week of all weeks, Arsenal fans need no reminding that the club have not won a trophy since.
Is Wenger hoping a little of Lehmann’s manic competitive edge and Teutonic desire to win will rub off on his former team-mates? It could be worth a try.