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EXCLUSIVE Former Arsenal keeper pulls few punches as he says the club's current form is 'unacceptable'

Fans who were behind calls for Arsene to go probably regret it now

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Technical director Edu, left, and manager Mikel Arteta, right, have a major battle on their hands to rebuild Arsenal (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Technical director Edu, left, and manager Mikel Arteta, right, have a major battle on their hands to rebuild Arsenal (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Technical director Edu, left, and manager Mikel Arteta, right, have a major battle on their hands to rebuild Arsenal (Anthony Devlin/PA)

One of Arsenal's Invincibles has questioned whether the fans who launched a vitriolic campaign to get Arsene Wenger out of the club might now be regretting their actions.

Jens Lehmann was part of the Gunners side that went through the 2003/04 Premier League season unbeaten, with that achievement standing as an enduring reminder of Wenger's greatness.

Alex Ferguson's triumphant Manchester United sides, Pep Guardiola's Manchester City dream teams and the current Liverpool outfit have all flirted with moving through the season without a defeat.

Yet Wenger's Arsenal are the only side to achieve the feat in the Premier League era, with Lehmann suggesting the #WengerOut brigade may have been overlooking a bigger issue at the club when they turned against the Frenchman from the stands.

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Jens Lehmann, who was involved in a coaching role at the time, with former Gunners gaffer Arsene Wenger in 2017

Jens Lehmann, who was involved in a coaching role at the time, with former Gunners gaffer Arsene Wenger in 2017

Jens Lehmann, who was involved in a coaching role at the time, with former Gunners gaffer Arsene Wenger in 2017

Wenger's successes as Arsenal boss continued through to the end of his reign as manager. He won the FA Cup three times in his final five seasons with the club, as he covered up the biggest flaws in the club's make-up.

After Unai Emery failed in his mission to revive the club's fortunes on a limited budget, current manager Mikel Arteta has now overseen the club's worst start to a season in 39 years, after a summer that saw the Gunners flop once again in the transfer market.

Reality

Lehmann believes Wenger's achievements were dismissed too quickly by Arsenal fans, as he told the Sunday World that the Gunners have been given a snapshot of reality ahead of today's game against Burnley.

"The fans were all calling for Wenger to go, but they can now see that he was more successful than those who have followed him, so they probably wish they could have him back," Lehmann told us in an exclusive interview at a BT Sport event.

"What I don't see from Arsenal at the moment is what they are trying to do. The style of football was always good with Wenger, the philosophy of the team was clear.

"In the end, the results were not as great as they were when I was there, but the way they played was always entertaining.

"Now I don't know what they are trying to achieve. Arsenal only produces results that are quite average, I can say.

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Mesut Ozil continues to earn around £1.4m-a-month despite being frozen out

Mesut Ozil continues to earn around £1.4m-a-month despite being frozen out

Mesut Ozil continues to earn around £1.4m-a-month despite being frozen out

"This is a big brand in football and Arsenal are disappointing at the moment. Maybe we have to give them a little more time to change direction.

"When you look at the table now and see Arsenal in 15th position? This is the worst I have seen from the team for as long as I can remember, and you can see why people are not happy.

"Now Arteta has to produce. If you go to a big club and you don't produce, it doesn't matter. It is here and now, and if you don't produce, we all know what can happen."

If Wenger was held up as the fall-guy for Arsenal's failings in his final years at the club, those he left behind now need to be placed in the spotlight.

Owner Stan Kroenke has shown little or no interest in using Arsenal as anything other than a cash cow to bolster the financial structures of his business.

Meanwhile, the club's attempts to build a structure that would relieve the power Wenger had claimed in his final decade at Arsenal has fallen apart in double-quick time.

Arsenal's head of football, Raul Sanllehi, left the club in August, following the exit of head of recruitment Sven Mislintat last year.

Chief scout Francis Cagigao was among 55 members of Arsenal's staff made redundant in August amid cost-cutting measures, yet the club still sanctioned a lavish new contract for captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and new signing Willian in the same month.

The chaos behind the scenes at Arsenal is summed up by Mesut Ozil's absence from the club's first-team plans, while he continues to earn around £1.4m-a-month from a contract he should never have been given.

Aubameyang has flopped badly this season, Willian has been anonymous since his move from Chelsea, with Lehmann questioning whether the club has the wrong personalities in the dressing room.

"From my experience in football, you sometimes see players who are fantastic when it comes up to the end of their contract," Lehmann continues.

"Then they sign the new deal and they rest a little. It has happened many times, and it is all about having the right mentality.

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Arteta, right, guided the Gunners to FA Cup success last season (Catherine Ivill/PA)

Arteta, right, guided the Gunners to FA Cup success last season (Catherine Ivill/PA)

Arteta, right, guided the Gunners to FA Cup success last season (Catherine Ivill/PA)

"I don't know what is happening with Aubameyang, but something is not right at Arsenal as the results they are producing are quite average, I can say.

"They won the FA Cup a few months ago and this was a great achievement, but what we are seeing from Arsenal now is not good enough."

Unique

Lehmann was concerned Liverpool would match Arsenal's achievement of going through a title-winning Premier League push unbeaten last season, as he admits he wants that unique achievement to stand the test of time.

"Last year was tight, it looked like Liverpool might do an unbeaten season, before they lost at Watford," he added with a smile.

"Manchester City also went close a couple of years ago, and when you see these great teams trying to go through the season unbeaten, it shows that our achievement was special.

"Maybe we didn't realise how much of a success that was at the time. Since then, very good teams have tried to do it, but they have come up short.

"We had a special team between 2003 and 2006, and to go through the entire season unbeaten proves as much.

"That side should have won the Champions League. We were good enough, but it didn't happen.

"We got to the final of the Champions League in 2006 and had a chance to win that final, even though I was sent-off in the game against Barcelona.

"It is a regret and, maybe, I do think about this moment and this match at times. Especially when people like you remind me in interviews!"

Unbeaten seasons are fantasies Arsenal fans can only dream about now, with achievements the mastermind who covered up the club's enduring flaws has put into sharp focus since his exit.

BT Sport will screen every Champions League match in 2021, with all games available to Sky customers in Ireland with a Sports Extra subscription.

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Jens Lehman

Jens Lehman

Jens Lehman

Factfile...

JENS LEHMANN

Born: November 10th 1969

Germany caps: 61

Clubs: Schalke, AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, Stuttgart

Honours with Schalke: UEFA Cup 1996/97

With AC Milan: Serie A 1998/99

With Borussia Dortmund: Bundesliga 2001/02

With Arsenal: Premier League 2003/04

Sunday World


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