Volatile Lehmann is the only weak link in Arsenal's armour

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The Independent Football

It all started so well. The setting was Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, the occasion the Community Shield. After a 1-1 draw Arsenal and Manchester United had embarked on a penalty shoot-out. Five penalties in Ruud van Nistelrooy, an Arsenal bête noire who had never previously missed a spot-kick with United, stepped up. Jens Lehmann, a 6ft 4in tousle-haired German, dived full length to save.

It all started so well. The setting was Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, the occasion the Community Shield. After a 1-1 draw Arsenal and Manchester United had embarked on a penalty shoot-out. Five penalties in Ruud van Nistelrooy, an Arsenal bête noire who had never previously missed a spot-kick with United, stepped up. Jens Lehmann, a 6ft 4in tousle-haired German, dived full length to save.

The Community Shield is something of an irrelevance but this incident had a lasting impact. Six weeks later, at Old Trafford, Van Nistelrooy took another penalty against Arsenal. It was the last minute of a hitherto goalless match and the Dutchman had the chance to end Arsenal's unbeaten run while it was in its infancy. Van Nistelrooy, recalling Cardiff, tried too hard and hit the crossbar.

Yet in his moment of triumph the first indications of Lehmann's flaw had been revealed. When the penalty was given he had reacted wildly pushing over opponents and confronting the referee. He was charged with improper conduct and though the charge was later downgraded his volatile temperament had been exposed.

As the season wore on Lehmann continued to accost any striker brave enough to challenge him, and several who just happened to be in the wrong place. He should have been banned after throwing the ball at Southampton's Kevin Phillips in December. He should have been cautioned after needlessly pushing Cristiano Ronaldo in the FA Cup semi-final. On Sunday he was finally punished, conceding the penalty which gave Tottenham an injury-time equaliser when he pushed Robbie Keane.

Afterwards Arsène Wenger admitted: "He made a mistake. He should not have responded. He knows that as well. He is an intelligent guy."

He is indeed. For much of his football career he has been studying, part-time, a degree in economics from the University of Münster (Wenger has a similar qualification from Strasbourg). Rather than playing cards or Playstation he reads to kill the dead time footballers experience in hotel rooms (a biography of Sir Winston Churchill was one such tome this season). He used to paint (abstracts) and speaks good English.

Yet he has also been sent-off five times, a staggering figure for a goalkeeper. Once was for fighting a team-mate at Borussia Dortmund. Soon after joining them Lehmann, who spent 11 years at their rivals, Schalke 04, had to be rescued by his team-mates after diving into the crowd to confront fans, of his own club, who were abusing his family.

He also has a habit of falling out with team-mates. He and his understudy at Dortmund did not speak for six months and he rarely talks to Oliver Kahn, the Bayern Munich goalkeeper, who has kept him out of the Germany team. One of the things which impressed him when he arrived at Arsenal was the camaraderie within the team, and especially between the goalkeepers.

Replacing David Seaman, a Highbury legend. It was a daunting task which is why Wenger went for experience and a strong personality. Lehman, 34, has a middle-class background - his father was a saleman - but hails from a working-class milieu. Born in Essen, in Germany's industrial heartland, Lehmann was sufficiently in touch with these roots to get the tram home from games early in his career.

While he was at Schalke they progressed from the second division to Uefa Cup winners beating an Internazionale side including Paul Ince on penalties. Lehmann caught the eye of Milan but he made only five appearances returning to Germany, with Dortmund, after a year.

He has been competent this season though, like Tim Howard at Manchester United, his form dipped as the season wore on. This was the first time he would not have enjoyed a winter break. Unlike Seaman in recent years he comes for crosses, and usually reaches them. His athleticism is impressive, his footwork less so. There are better goalkeepers around, but not enough to make him easy to replace. The question for Wenger is whether his temperament makes him a liability. "It becomes a game to wind him up," Wenger said. If he remains that will continue. There are few other weaknesses for Arsenal's opponents to target.

A TALE OF TWO GOALKEEPERS

David Seaman; Jens Lehmann

2002-03 Season 2003-04
2,520 Minutes on pitch 3,060
8 Clean sheets 13
31 Goals conceded 24
72 Saves 76
70% Saves to shots ratio 76%

Goals conceded:

21 from shots inside box 20
10 from shots outside box 4
9 Punches 40
44 Catches 81
2 Dropped catches 5
96% Catch success rate 94%

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