Lehmann on way back as Almunia licks wounds

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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger is likely to restore Jens Lehmann as his goalkeeper for Arsenal's Premiership meeting with Chelsea on Sunday. The Arsenal manager had initially indicated that Manuel Almunia would get "a run of games" after replacing the 35-year-old German for the past two matches.

Arsene Wenger is likely to restore Jens Lehmann as his goalkeeper for Arsenal's Premiership meeting with Chelsea on Sunday. The Arsenal manager had initially indicated that Manuel Almunia would get "a run of games" after replacing the 35-year-old German for the past two matches.

But Wenger has now back-tracked on that statement and said after Arsenal's 5-1 victory over Rosenborg, which secured their passage to the knock-out stages of the Champions' League, that he would decide "on Sunday" whether to retain Almunia or recall Lehmann.

Alumunia was badly at fault for Rosenborg's goal and was desperately unconvincing with a series of crosses in the second half. "I'm a great believer in Almunia's potential but, at the moment, he is playing under so much pressure that he has not really been himself," Wenger admitted.

He said that he had, all along, claimed he would review the situation from "game to game" but had also said on Monday that Almunia would not simply be taken out of the team after starting against Birmingham City and Rosenborg.

It amounts to an unnecessary crisis for Arsenal and took some of the gloss away from the convincing victory against the Norwegian champions even if they were probably the weakest team Wenger's side have ever faced in this competition. Their defeat on Tuesday was the 15th time in 16 away ties that they had lost. Rosenborg's domestic season finished three weeks ago and yet they managed to cause several problems for Arsenal's defence.

Lehmann has professed to being shocked by Wenger's decision to drop him although his form has been poor. He said he had been told he needed a break but denied that this was necessary. There was some assurance that the blow will not affect his chances of being selected for the German national team. Joachim Low, who is the assistant to the coach Jurgen Klinsmann, said he believed Lehmann would bounce back and quickly regain his place. "We don't lose a thought on this as we are sure Jens will continue to play for Arsenal," Low said.

His long-term future, however, is in doubt. Wenger is clearly looking for a new first choice and would love to sign Chelsea's Carlo Cudicini. It is clear that Almunia, who was loaned out by his previous club Celta Vigo before joining Arsenal in the summer, is unlikely to be the answer. However the 27-year-old Spaniard said yesterday that he remained "confident" in his ability. "I am experienced and I want people to talk about the good things I have done," he said.

Nevertheless Almunia admitted he was surprised at having been picked. He added: "I am pleased that the manager trusted me. But I do not feel under pressure and am not worried. I am happy with my work."

He is undoubtedly a good shot-stopper - as he showed in saving Harald Brattbakk's fierce half-volley but is vulnerable to crosses. Chelsea, of course, field two wingers. There was better news for Wenger in the performances of his young midfield pairing of 17-year-old Cesc Fabregas - who scored and Mathieu Flamini, 20. Due to injuries and suspensions both will start on Sunday. Team-mate Dennis Bergkamp - just two years younger than their combined ages - said: "They can handle the big occasion. They showed it against Rosenborg in a difficult game with a lot of pressure.

"All credit to them. They have players around who can help them. The main thing is they go out and they do their own thing. They don't know about any pressure."

Bergkamp insisted that Arsenal are also returning to form. "We played some one-touch football and that hasn't been there for a few weeks. It helps to get the confidence back," he said.

FINDERS' KEEPERS: HOW ARSENAL'S TWO SUSPECT GOALKEEPERS SHAPE UP

MANUEL ALMUNIA

Description: 27-year-old Spaniard

Joined Arsenal July 2004, £500,000 from Celta Vigo

Internationals: 0 caps

Debut v Man City in League Cup, 10 October 2004

Typical gaffes At Manchester Utd in the Carling Cup last week, he allowed a weak effort from David Bellion to roll over his knee before going in.

Against Rosenborg in the Champions' League on Tuesday night, he presents the Norwegians with their goal after a fumble (above). Got away with other errors including dropping a corner. His catches prompted ironic cheers.

JENS LEHMANN

Description: 35-year-old German

Joined Arsenal July 2003, for £2.5m from Dortmund

Internationals: 18 caps

Debut v Man Utd in Charity Shield 10 August 2003 (above)

Typical gaffes In the Champions' League game at Dynamo Kiev in October 2003, he loses footing after charging out of his area, allowing Belkevich to double Kiev's advantage.

In home CL tie with Chelsea last April, he spills Makelele's drive to let Lampard a crucial equaliser. Chelsea score again and knock Arsenal out of Europe.

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