Football: Hammers unleash the lauded Lama

The French goalkeeper is - at last- making an impression in Britain
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ARSENE WENGER is English football's biggest importer of French players but, as far as he was concerned, there was one compatriot too many at Highbury on Sunday.

The Arsenal coach felt a flutter of concern as soon as he knew Bernard Lama would be in the West Ham United goal and his fears were realised as, impressively, the 34-year-old kept a second clean sheet against Arsenal in seven days.

"He always played like that against Monaco in France," bemoaned Wenger in admiration. "He is world class, one of the top three goalkeepers in the world. Everything is so clean. He is always very flexible and so quick: it is so easy for him to move."

Wenger had been astonished that West Ham, having signed Lama at Christmas, had preferred Craig Forrest in goal until the Canadian was injured last week. Lama, who has 35 French caps, had arrived from Paris St-Germain after being banned last year for testing positive for cannabis in a drug test.

"I did not sign him because we have David Seaman and Lama is not the sort of goalkeeper who you sign as cover. He is a great goalkeeper - West Ham had gold in their hands but did not know it. I was surprised but I understand he is not known here - but it does not need five reserve games to know he is top class."

Lama, who is desperate for regular football as he tries to regain a place in the French national squad, had threatened to leave West Ham when he was not picked but has persevered. After his debut last week he said "I was like a caged lion, but now I have a lovely antelope to eat."

Harry Redknapp said of his keeper, who was born in French Guyana in South America. "He looked very confident. But this was not an occasion to worry him. He's played for France and in a European Cup final."

With Samassi Abou, a France Under-21 cap, also in the West Ham team and Emmanuel Petit, Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka and Christopher Wreh appearing for Arsenal, there were six French players at Highbury plus Remi Garde on the bench and Gilles Grimandi not involved.

None, however, are certain starters for the French World Cup team though Vieira is likely to be in the squad and both Lama and Petit might be.

"I don't now what will happen," added Lama. "Aime Jacquet [the French coach] knows me and he knows how I feel."