Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann will need to be on his guard as Arsenal FC face Chelsea FC.
By Andrew Warshaw
When Jens Lehmann arrived at Arsenal FC from BV Borussia Dortmund at the start of this season, he knew all about the status of the side and the flair and panache that they had acquired under Arsène Wenger. What he did not appreciate was how much the players pulled together and the camaraderie generated throughout the squad.
"When I came here I knew a lot of the players but I didn't expect such spirit," the German international told uefa.com. "When we only had one point in the [UEFA] Champions League back in October, it was our team spirit that kept us alive. Normally with such a high level of players, people think of themselves and tend to behave like superstars but here it is completely different. Everyone thinks only of the team."
Lehmann is too modest to admit it but his own role, on and off the pitch, has been partly responsible for the Gunners edging towards the one trophy Wenger and the entire staff crave - the European Champion Clubs' Cup. Rumour has it that when it appeared Arsenal had no hope, he personally issued a rallying cry to the rest of the players in the dressing room.
Whatever the case, a 1-1 draw at arch-rivals Chelsea FC put Arsenal in the driving seat to finish off the quarter-final tie at Highbury tonight and advance to a sem-ifinal meeting with either Real Madrid CF or AS Monaco FC.
Despite possibly being at fault for Chelsea's goal at Stamford Bridge, when he rushed out of his area to clear a long ball, Lehmann's form has been rock solid since the first few weeks of the season when the occasional mistake led to doubts about his suitability as David Seaman's replacement. Indeed, but for a couple of crucial saves against Chelsea, Arsenal could have gone into the second leg trailing.
"I only want to be judged at the end of the season," he said. "I suppose people were not sure of me at first because I'm not a spectacular keeper. I'm not a shot-stopper so they have to watch me a couple of times to make up their minds. All I hope is that I can carry on as I have been."
Clearly, he is relishing English football at the highest level. "I like the pace of the game in England, I like the supporters," he said. "One of my targets is to finish my career in England but whether I can maintain my form until I'm 36 or 37, I don't know."
Lehmann's style is already being likened to that of the best English keepers, especially his ability to handle crosses. "I think it was the main reason Arsenal bought me, they must have known what I could do," he said.
However, as the Chelsea game looms, what will be demanded of the goalkeeper will be a big-match mentality. Having seen their chances of a treble disintegrate with an FA Cup semi-final defeat against Manchester United FC at the weekend, Arsenal could lose out on a double with a defeat or a high-scoring draw tonight.
"We can achieve a lot but we can also lose a lot," Lehmann admitted. The team spirit that the goalkeeper has so admired since coming to Highbury is about to face its toughest test to date.