On this day in 2003, Arsenal signed German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann for just £1.5m from Borussia Dortmund.
Arsene Wenger was looking for a replacement for the departing club legend David Seaman. And much like the way he assembled the rest of the 2003/04 Arsenal team, he opted to sign a relatively unknown player who had thrived in Europe, rather than signing a replacement from England. This transfer strategy worked out pretty darn well.
The German represented a new type of goalkeeper at Arsenal. Much like his compatriot Manuel Neuer – many years later – Lehmann was considered a sweeper-keeper, charging out of the box to thwart opposition attacks.
As well as introducing a new style of goalkeeping to the Arsenal side, Lehmann was also a unique personality.
Plenty of the German’s former teammates have spoken about his stern nature. One story involved Lehmann storming into Arsenal’s dressing room in a fit of rage at his side only drawing 2-2 with Tottenham in April 2004 – the match in which they actually won the league. He burst into a stream of expletives, expressing his anger at the Gunners failing to beat their bitter rivals.
Lehmann was then told that Arsenal had, in fact, won the league by drawing the game – it’s safe to say that he cheered up somewhat upon hearing that.
After as solid a first season as you’re ever likely to have, the goalkeeper was also instrumental in Arsenal’s 2005/06 Champions League campaign, where they lost in the final to Barcelona. Arsenal broke the record that season for most consecutive Champions League clean sheets with 10. This was in no part down to Lehmann’s heroics, which included an 89th minute penalty save away at Villarreal in the semi-final.
Unfortunately for Lehmann that run ended rather ignominiously with a red card in the 18th minute of the final. He became the first player, and only ever goalkeeper to be sent off in a Champions League final.
As well as being vital for the Gunners during his time there, Lehmann was also key to some of Germany’s success in the mid-2000s. His best moment in a Germany shirt coming during Germany’s penalty shoot-out victory over Argentina in the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup. Lehmann saved two penalties to take Die Mannschaft through to the semi-finals, where they lost to the eventual winners, Italy.
Lehmann stayed at Arsenal for two more years after the Champions League final, losing his place in the starting XI to Manuel Almunia. But that wasn’t the end of his Arsenal career.
The German returned to Arsenal in 2011 – despite officially retiring in 2010. Due to an injury crisis where Wojciech Szczesny, Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone were all injured, the Gunners signed Lehmann on an emergency deal until the end of the season. Lehmann was forced to start in the 3-1 victory over Blackpool due to Almunia getting injured in the warmup – a start that made him the oldest player to play for the club in the Premier League at 41 years old.
Lehmann would then properly retired at the end of that season. He did return again though, this time in a coaching role. He joined former-Arsenal players Freddie Ljungberg and Steve Bould in the coaching staff, leaving at the end of the year when Unai Emery took over from Arsene Wenger.
Now, Jens Lehmann is a member of the Hertha Berlin board. He was heavily involved in the appointment of Bruno Labbadia as their manager, who helped the club steer clear of relegation, finishing a respectable 10th.
17 years after joining the club, Lehmann is fondly remembered by Arsenal fans. Generally considered the last world class goalkeeper Arsenal had, until the recent signing of Bernd Leno. Nevertheless, much like the rest of that Invincible Arsenal team, it’ll take a lot for any Arsenal ‘keeper after Lehmann to be considered a club legend in quite the same way he is.