Arsène Wenger said yesterday that he could no longer guarantee that Jens Lehmann would remain as Arsenal's first-choice goalkeeper. The 37-year-old German is currently being rested due to an Achilles injury – although it is thought Lehmann disputes the need for that rest – and Wenger said that his understudy Manuel Almunia will be given the opportunity to stake his claim.
"We are in a competitive world and he has to have a chance," Wenger said of Almunia. "You go from game to game and you assess. I have the highest respect for Jens. I brought him here when he was 33 or 34 and made him number one. And since he has always been number one."
But that status has now ended. Wenger confirmed he held talks with Lehmann last Friday, which would suggest the veteran is unhappy with how he has been treated, but the manager insisted there was no way he could play because "he's injured". "He's never happy when he's injured," Wenger said. "He's never happy when he is not playing."
Two mistakes – gifting goals to Fulham and Blackburn Rovers – have influenced Wenger's thinking although, two years ago, he also stood Lehmann down for a time and replaced him with Almunia before the Spaniard, also, made a series of blunders.
That change appeared to be temporary and the same may happen now. But it is believed that Lehmann, who had a scan yesterday on the injury that has affected him for several weeks, is less sure of his place at Arsenal than at any time since he joined in 2003.
Ironically, a brilliant instinctive save by Lehmann helped Arsenal keep a clean sheet in their 2-0 win over Sparta Prague, tonight's opponents in the second leg of the Champions League qualifier. It means that the fixture should be little more than a formality for Wenger's side although he is aware that not only have the Czech champions made a good start to their domestic season but they can be aggressive opponents.
That aggression went over the top on the eve of the first leg two weeks ago when captain Tomas Repka stupidly told Czech TV that he would "sort out" the Arsenal players. Unfortunately his words were translated by Tomas Rosicky, with Cesc Fabregas deciding to take matters into his own hands also, with a strong tackle on Repka that ended his involvement.
The incident may add more heat to the encounter although Wenger will be careful not to risk any of his players getting injuries. He is already missing William Gallas, Emmanuel Eboué and Bacary Sagna and has few options in defence.
It would appear that Wenger also needs to strengthen his attack. However, he insisted he would not be buying – or selling – before the end of the transfer window: "Why should I bring more players in?" Wenger, bolstered by an encouraging start to the season, said. "I have big faith in my squad."
Arsenal (probable, 4-4-2): Almunia; Hoyte, Touré, Gilberto, Clichy; Walcott, Fabregas, Flamini, Rosicky; Adebayor, Da Silva.Reuse content