An emotional exit for Lehmann and a speedy one for Flamini
It s been a week of tears, thank yous and goodbyes at Arsenal, writes Jem Maidment . While an emotional Jens Lehmann was soaking up The Emirates atmosphere for one last time, Mathieu Flamini was quickly disrobing from his Arsenal tracksuit, saying hurrie
It's been a week of tears, thank yous and goodbyes at Arsenal, writes Jem Maidment .
While an emotional Jens Lehmann was soaking up The Emirates atmosphere for one last time, Mathieu Flamini was quickly disrobing from his Arsenal tracksuit, saying hurried farewells to players and groundstaff.
Flamini made a speedy exit as he rushed to a private plane waiting to whisk him off to Italy to finalise a move to the Lehmann's former club, AC Milan.
A routine medical at Milanello on Monday followed before he signed a four-year contract worth a reputed £3m a year after tax.
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Bayern Munich and Juventus had also been monitoring the situation. The France midfielder - who was on the verge of a move to Birmingham City last August before Arsene Wenger intervened - is believed to have wanted parity with the club's top earner Cesc Fabregas. But despite repeated demands by his agent, the Gunners would not budge on their "generous" offer of a five-year contract.
Wenger has long maintained a reluctance to shatter The Emirates wage structure. Flamini's mercenary attitude has surprised and disappointed many fans who have taken the defensive midfielder to their hearts after an excellent campaign.
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He arrived at Highbury four summers ago from home town club Marseille after promising the Mediterranean outfit he would sign a new contract with them. At the time, then manager Jose Anigo poetically accused the youngster of a "beautiful treason".
Now Wenger has found to his cost how headstrong Flamini, whose contract expires this summer, can be. "I don't know any more than you," said the exasperated manager when asked about Flamini's situation post-match.
A few hours later it became crystal clear. His dominant display in Arsenal's 2-0 win over the ailing Milanese in the Champions League in March is believed to have impressed the Rossoneri's hierarchy sufficiently to make their dazzling offer.
Arsenal will sorely miss his stamina and industry. It is yet another headache Wenger has to contend with as he attempts to draft in reinforcements to his painfully thin squad of players.
Back in London, Lehmann's expected departure was a drawn-out affair as the maverick custodian finally said goodbye after five years in north London, in which he excelled in his first season as the side went unbeaten the entire campaign.
Wenger showed his sentimental side, allowing him to say goodbye properly by bringing him on for the final 21 minutes as a substitute for Lukasz Fabianski.
The 38-year-old, who may retire from football altogether after Euro 2008 next month, milked the applause on the final whistle as he bowed to all four corners of the stadium.
"I had one or two tears in my eyes," he admitted. "It was a great farewell for me. This farewell will always stay in my heart.
"The boss told me before that he planned to get me on. It was a very warm welcome on the pitch. It was the right decision to come here," he added, looking back on his time in north London.
"Not only in terms of football but as well for my family. My children now are speaking better English than German, and they don't want to go back."
Wenger and Lehmann clearly both put aside their very public differences from earlier in the season as they chatted warmly on the lap of honour. Others may also be off both on the pitch, in the backroom team and beyond.
Brazil midfielder Gilberto Silva has made no secret of his desire to find regular first-team football and as much as Wenger wants him to stay, he will not stand in his way if an offer comes in after this weekend's final league game of the season at Sunderland.
"I would like Gilberto to stay," explained Wenger. "But I have to sit down with him to see what he wants to do. Gilberto is like Jens [Lehmann], you can rely on them, they are fantastic professionals. Gilberto is a fantastic guy. We won trophies with Gilberto and Jens because they are special human beings - you do not win with average people.