Jens Lehmann – the invincible and the unpredictable
Jens Lehmann is easily mocked and derided. Not without reason, either. His first stint at Arsenal was littered with examples of him living up to his reputation as ‘Mad Jens’: running outside his area to intercept passes, sometimes with disastrous consequences; or getting into arguments seemingly just for the sake of it. Though often hysterical to watch – as long as you weren’t an Arsenal fan – he was frequently brilliant too.
Lehmann’s role in Arsenal finishing as runners-up in the 2006 Champions League is often remembered by nothing other than his sending off in the final. But that is completely unfair, for Lehmann was frequently superb that campaign, instrumental in a run of 853 consecutive Champions League minutes without conceding. And this, remember, was with Mathieu Flamini at left-back, Emmanuel Eboue at right-back and Phillipe Senderos often at centre-half. Devoid of anything to do Lehmann was certainly not.
Especially in 05/06, Lehmann displayed a remarkable propensity to make brilliant saves, his hulking frame preventing many a near-certain goal. One save from Raul, when he jumped to flick a thumping, close-range attempt onto the post, was particularly memorable, all the more so in that it helped eliminate Real Madrid. And then there was the 89th minute penalty save from Juan Roman Riquelme to send Arsenal through to their first Champions League final. These efforts were all recognised when he was named Uefa Goalkeeper of the Year for 2006.
But in his other four seasons Lehmann was unable to match the consistent heights of 05/06. Sometimes it was hard to imagine there was a better keeper in the world, like when Lehmann made copious exceptional saves – including in the penalty shoot-out – in the otherwise utterly undeserved 2005 FA Cup Final win against Manchester United. Yet too often his fierce competitiveness manifested itself in an ugly manner that impeded his side’s ability to win. A terribly erratic performance during the Champions League quarter final defeat to Chelsea in 2004 is still lamented by many fans, while a terrible string of errors at the start of the 07/08 season ended his run as first choice keeper, ultimately leading to his exit.
It is sometimes said there are two types of goalkeepers. There are steady types, who will save the balls they should save but will seldom make spectacular stops. Then there are unpredictable ones, capable of humiliating mistakes but also truly brilliant saves. Lehmann undoubtedly fits into the latter category, as his fingertip stop from Ole Solsjkaer further attests to. While Lehmann could be infuriating indeed in an Arsenal shirt, the ‘Good Jens’ was normally seen more than the mad one, and it is hard to deny their goalkeeping has regressed since his departure in 2008. Now, he has a chance to remind everyone how good he can be.Tagged in: Arsenal, Champions League, football, Jens Lehmann
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