Arsenal’s current goalkeeper Bernd Leno has drawn comparisons to his German compatriot and fellow shot-stopper Jens Lehmann since his move to north London, but he is keen to highlight the differences.
Lehmann was Arsenal’s first-choice keeper during their unbeaten Premier League season in 2003/04 and spent five years at the club. During a career spanning more than two decades, he earned a reputation as a top keeper but also a somewhat eccentric individual.
Leno’s arrival from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer of 2018 unsurprisingly prompted an easy comparison to Lehmann because of his nationality and position.
However, the assumption was made that Leno would bear Lehmann’s personality traits rather than his footballing ability.
The 28-year-old, speaking to the German publication SWR Sport, highlighted his predecessor’s reputation by claiming that Lehmann was referred to either as ‘Mad Jens’ or ‘F… German’. Leno continued: “They expected something bad when a German goalkeeper comes, but luckily it is not that bad.”
Perhaps Lehmann’s greatest rush of blood to the head came in the 2006 Champions League final, when he scythed down Samuel Eto’o 18 minutes into the showpiece, leaving Arsenal a man down against Barcelona. The Gunners eventually lost 2-1 and have never since returned to those heights.
Leno and his teammates can barely dream of qualifying for the Champions League, let alone gracing its latter stages as they went into the enforced hiatus sitting ninth in the table.
Arsenal were one of the first teams to go into quarantine as their coach Mikel Arteta contracted coronavirus. Leno explained the uncertainty he and the squad felt at the time: “Everyone hugged the coach, touched him, you hugged in the cabin.
“And then you didn’t know, do you still get it? It was a very, very strange situation.”
Yet, after several months away from competitive football, Leno was quick to express his desire to return: “It was getting boring, I’m really up for football.”
Arsenal warmed up for the Premier League restart with an emphatic 6-0 win against Championship Charlton Athletic in a behind closed doors friendly recently. But their first competitive fixture back poses an altogether different challenge against defending champions Manchester City on 17 June.
It will be a first return for Arteta to his former employers and despite the chasm in points between the two clubs, Leno cheekily offered up that City can be surprised ‘on a good day’.