By Giuseppe Muro at the Robin Park Arena
Jens Lehmann donned an Arsenal shirt for the first time since May 2008 as the Reserves went down 2-1 at Wigan Athletic on Tuesday.
The German goalkeeper completed 90 minutes in his first game since coming out of retirement and, apart from a few frights, put in an assured display to reassure Arsène Wenger that he is ready to be called upon if needed.
One stunning reaction save, expert handling throughout and a confident display - this was a valuable outing of the 41-year-old.
Former Gunner and free agent Jérémie Aliadière, who is currently training with Wenger’s squad while he looks for a club, also started his first game in eight months.
Ignasi Miquel’s early sending off meant Neil Banfield’s side were forced to play with ten men for over 70 minutes and goals from Callum McManaman and Joe Holt inflicted a defeat that probably ends Arsenal’s title hopes.
Rhys Murphy scored a consolation from the penalty spot with the last kick of the game.
All eyes were on Lehmann as the two teams walked out at in the North-East and, although he may have aged a bit since we last saw him, the opening 20 minutes suggested that he had never been away.
A commanding presence from the off, he marshalled the back four through a cagey opening spell. In a quiet stadium, the German’s voice was a constant noise in the background.
Apart from a couple of high crosses and tricky back-passes, Lehmann was hardly tested before Miquel received his marching orders after 20 minutes.
The captain clipped Sean Myler is as he burst through and, although Daniel Boateng appeared to be covering, the referee produced a straight red card.
Benfield was forced to reshuffle with Sead Hajrovic slotting in at centre half. Aliadere was left with the thankless task of leading the line, with very little reward, for the rest of the half.
Lehmann had a bemused look on his face when Adam Buxton left his foot in as the goalkeeper cleared with his left foot. The referee decided the ball was there to be won.
Nine minutes before the break, Lehmann made his first telling contribution. Jordan Rugg reacted first to a low cross from the left and, at the back post from barely a yard, his effort was repelled by the keeper. Any question that his reactions are not what they used to be were answered in an instant.
As the half appeared to be petering out, a hair-raising moment for Lehmann and Arsenal nearly resulted in a freak goal for the hosts.
There seemed no danger when Boateng rolled a tame back-pass Lehmann’s way and, just like Paul Robinson did that time in Croatia, he missed his kick after the ball took a horrible bobble.
The whole ground gasped as, seemingly in slow motion, the ball trickled goalwards. Thankfully for Lehmann, it would roll inches, make that centimetres, wide of the right post.
The unfazed goalkeeper and Arsenal went into the break level.
But just eight minutes into the second period, they would go behind when McManaman raced clear to finish well from close range.
Murphy and McManaman exchanged chances and then Lehmann was at the centre of the action yet again. After trying to dribble his way out of defence, he got caught on the ball and was thankful to a goal-saving block from Boateng on the line.
Aliadière was still plugging away at the other end and was the meat in a Wigan sandwich as he burst through on goal. Much to his surprise, the referee saw nothing wrong.
As Arsenal pressed for an equaliser, Holt showed neat feet to round Lehmann and put the game beyond reach.
Murphy’s injury-time spot kick was greeted by the full-time whistle seconds later.
- Miquel Red Card
- Murphy Goal!
- Rees 79
- Ebecilio 72
- Aliadière 79
- Edge 79
- Bunjaku 72
- Wynter 79
- McManaman Goal!
- Holt Goal!