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Year end review: A tale of two keepers - Manuel Almunia and Jens Lehmann

As the Pole in the goal, Lukasz Fabianski, prepares to face Blackburn tonight, his fellow first team stoppers will no doubt watch with interest to see how the youngster fares - but they definitely won't be watching the game together.

The relationship between Jens Lehmann and Manuel Almunia is best described as frosty, as the German keeper's jealousy since losing his regular first team place to the Spaniard has been all too vocal.

Lehmann started the season badly - a first minute mistake against Fulham led to the first goal Arsenal conceded and saw the team having to come from behind to beat their west London rivals. Being 1-0 down at Emirates was a bit of a theme last season, so to continue in the same form was hardly a surprise, but in Lehmann's very next Premier League game, another howler handed Blackburn a lifeline and meant the Gunners dropped two valuable points.

With Arsene Wenger claiming that Mad Jens had picked up an injury in the Blackburn game, up stepped Manuel Almunia, who you have to applaud for taking his chance by establishing himself as first choice goalie in his manager's mind.

Of course, it helps that Almunia has had a defensive line of Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, William Gallas and Gael Clichy to rely on for most of the season so far, but when called upon the 30-year-old has performed well and is yet to make that serious clanger that most of his peers in the rest of the Premier League have suffered at least once this season.

In the meantime, his more experienced team mate Lehmann has proved that he might be older, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he is wiser. Rather than just get on with things by proving he is the better man in training, Jens seems to have found William Gallas's old whinging hat and has been donning it regularly to sound off about Almunia.

Manuel has never won Arsenal a big match, was one of Lehmann's put downs. Well, with victories over Tottenham, Sevilla and Chelsea now under his belt, not to mention draws with Liverpool and Manchester United, Almunia has shown us he is no big game bottler.

Not content with that, Lehmann also attacked Le Gaffer in the press by claiming Wenger was not a good decision maker. Arsene has been incredibly patient with his former No.1 choice and has even referred to him as a "super professional" but he has only recalled Mad Jens to the first team once - and that was to rest Almunia before last Sunday's game with Chelsea.

The relationship between the two keepers is now at the point where Almunia has confessed that they no longer speak - a situation which suits the Spaniard fine, as he continues to enjoy his first team action looking down from the top of the Premier League table.

It seems likely that if Almunia remains fit over the next month that Jens Lehmann may well move on to another club in the January transfer window. Wenger has as much as admitted that he doesn't see Jens being at Arsenal long term, but I can't see him allowing the German national stopper leave without first securing a proven replacement.

The form of Almunia has been consistent, if not spectacular, but with Arsenal approaching the mid point in the season at the top of the pile, we can't exactly criticise Wenger for keeping the faith with Manuel - and the one thing that has improved is we no longer have to fear those Mad Jens moments, which seemed to occur almost every game.

If I'm going to score the players on a marks out of 10 basis for their performances so far this season, then although I still rate Lehmann as the better keeper, his lack of time on the pitch would force me to give him a paltry 4, while Almunia definitely comes out on top with 7.

Do you agree? Are you resigned to Jens Lehmann leaving or can you see Arsene Wenger persuading him to stay? And who do you think Arsenal should target as a replacement if Lehmann does move on? Share your thoughts here using our comments section below.

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Posted by Gordon Masson on December 18, 2007 10:13 AM in News| Players
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Lehmann should definitely stay.He has not had enough playing time and he is a fantastic goalkeeper .Almunia will proove to be a huge liability.Arsenal has a great defense at the moment so Almunia has been lucky.Lehmann is far the most talented goalie out of the two!!! LEHMANN TO STAY PLEASE.......

Posted by: johnny maguire | December 18, 2007 3:34 PM

LEHMANN to stay .I agree with Arsene,not to sell to anyone in the transfer window.He needs to be playing a little more...Best goalie at the moment

Posted by: paul mastro | December 18, 2007 3:37 PM

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