Former Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann believes manager Arsene Wenger should be given the chance to turn the club’s fortunes around, insisting the Gunners’ current crisis is the fault of the players.
The pressure on Lehmann’s former boss has increased after Arsenal were blown apart by Bayern Munich on Wednesday night and dumped out of the Champions League 10-2 on aggregate.
Yet Lehmann – a member of the Invicibles team who went the 2003-04 Premier League season unbeaten – believes that while players can be easily replaced, the Frenchman’s qualities are a rarer commodity.
“People always like to have new things if something doesn’t go to plan or expectations,” the former Germany international told City A.M.
“Arsene has represented the club in a fantastic way, the club is where it is and is in a fantastic state. The club has money to replace players but it is lacking a little bit in confidence right now, in signing new players and making decisions about current players. But that can come with good results.
“Particularly for Arsene Wenger, it’s hard to find a manager who is more intelligent. Everybody ages but intelligence doesn’t age. It’s there or it’s not there.
“Now he has to stay on at least one or two years to make a bad spell good again.”
Arsenal’s seventh successive exit in the last 16 of the Champions League came against a backdrop of senior players — primarily Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil — at a deadlock with the club in talks over contract extensions.
Lehmann, Wenger’s preferred man between the sticks when Arsenal went 850 minutes without conceding a Champions League goal in 2006, argues that the players responsible should be knuckling down on the training ground rather than playing hardball at the negotiating table.
“I think the group is probably looking for other challenges,” he said.
“From what I hear players are thinking about extending contracts at higher prices. Sometimes they forget that if you want to have more money, better contracts, you need to first deliver. And if you fail to deliver, you should focus on being better in training and everything else comes after.
“When you look at the last two games against Bayern Munich, I think that some players have let the club down.
“If I was a player there I’d know from that now on, I have to prove myself in every training session. What they’re forgetting is that Arsenal is a big club and has the financial means to replace everybody.”
Lehmann will be returning to London in July when he represents Germany at Star Sixes, a new football tournament featuring some of the game’s best-known former players at The O2.
Wenger’s recent squads have been accused of lacking that same obsession with winning as teams of the past. It’s a trait Lehmann has noticed too, although he argues it’s not unique to the Emirates dressing room.
“This group of players, it’s a nice group,” said Lehmann.
“But they could organise themselves a little bit more and sometimes they could argue [with each other], but in a positive way.
“Arguing means I put pressure on you. So if next time I fail to deliver, you put pressure on me. And they can’t really get on with pressure. Although that’s not only a typical Arsenal thing, that goes for nearly every other [modern] team.”
Bayern, so ruthless in their dismantling of Arsenal over two legs, may be an exception.
The German champions have at least made the semi-finals of the Champions League every season since losing to Chelsea in the 2012 final and Lehmann believes the template for sustained success is forged by the deep football knowledge within the highest echelons of the club.
In contrast to Arsenal and many of their Premier League rivals, Bayern’s board features legendary former players such as Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummunigge.
“It has something to do with know how,” he says.
“When you look at the people at the top, they were always top class footballers. So of course, people who have never played will argue ‘Yes, but if you look here and there, there are other examples where clubs can be successful’.
“To be honest, not really. At the end of the day, people need to know what they’re talking about.
“Success begins at the top and you have to implement a philosophy of success and most people don’t know how to do it. The more knowledge you’ve got about football, the more likely you are to be successful.”
Jens Lehmann is playing for Germany at Star Sixes, a new competitive world football tournament for iconic former international players at The O2, London, from July 13-16. Tickets are on sale at www.theo2.co.uk/starsixes