Why former Arsenal keeper feels sorry for Jens Lehmann

Former Arsenal goalkeeper Stuart Taylor has admitted he feels sorry for Jens Lehmann – and believes he is unlucky not to still be the Gunners No 1. The German stopper is tipped to leave in the summer after being forced to play second fiddle to Manuel Almu

Former Arsenal goalkeeper Stuart Taylor has admitted he feels sorry for Jens Lehmann - and believes he is unlucky not to still be the Gunners No 1.

The German stopper is tipped to leave in the summer after being forced to play second fiddle to Manuel Almunia.

Romford-born Taylor knows what it is like to be in his position as Arsenal's No 2 after spending eight years on the bench and on loan as he failed to dislodge David Seaman and, latterly, Lehmann. Just 30 appearances in nearly a decade tells its own story.

"It's not nice warming the bench but that's what can happen," Taylor, now at Aston Villa, told Ham&High Series Sport. "You keep your head up and make sure you put as much pressure as you can on the first-choice man."

Not, he argues, that Lehmann - with four clean sheets in six starts since the turn of the year - has done much wrong to earn his demotion from Arsene Wenger's starting XI.

"He made a couple of errors at the beginning of the season and that has been it. He barely had a sniff of the first team for months," continues the 6ft 5in tall keeper.

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"Recently he's played a few games again with Almunia out of action but, to be honest, I would expect him to be upset that he is no longer Wenger's first choice. I know I would be. But then the margin for error at a big club like Arsenal is so small."

Taylor is in a unique position, having worked with both Lehmann and Almunia, before departing for Villa Park in the summer of 2005.

"There is very little to choose between them, although Jens and Manuel have very different styles," he explained.

"Jens, in my opinion, is like David Seaman. He is solid, unspectacular but unerringly consistent. When Seaman retired in 2003 I thought I had a chance to take the No 1 jersey but Wenger signed Jens and he was fantastic from the first moment I saw him. Mr Consistency and so hard-working in training."

And Almunia? "Another stunning goalkeeper but more flamboyant," he said. "He was in the same situation as me as No 2 but bided his time and took his chance.

"I have the utmost respect for him. I honestly, hand on heart, can't say which one I would go for."

And back to his own time at the club, he claims it was mission impossible to become a regular. "My problem was that for most of my time I was the behind the best goalkeeper in the world, David Seaman," he said. "When you are No 2 to people like that you don't mind as much. In addition, I worked with John Lukic and he was brilliant too.

"And to learn from a coach like Bob Wilson was magnificent. I can't complain - it's just the way it goes in life."

Despite so few starts in a Gunners jersey, Taylor picked up a Premiership winner's medal in 2002 after making 10 league appearances when Seaman was injured.

But his finest hour came in the Champions League that season when he put in an almost faultless display in the now famous 3-1 win over Juventus at Highbury - a result which announced the club as a major contender at Europe's top table.

"That game was a personal highlight," he said. "I played really well and so did the whole team - it was a night I will never forget.

"And to finish the season with a title medal was just immense. With Seaman close to retiring I felt it could be a springboard to greater things at Arsenal for me. Unfortunately, it wasn't."

In 2005 he decided enough was enough and opted for a move to Villa, who were managed by ex-Arsenal legend David O'Leary.

"It was a fresh start for me - I was upset to leave Highbury at the time although at Villa I had a better chance to play," he said. "But before long I was behind Thomas Sorensen in the pecking order. I have always had quality keepers in my way - now Scott Carson is here."

Like Lehmann a few yards away, Taylor adopted his usual position at one minute to three on Saturday when Villa visited The Emirates - warming the bench as England keeper Carson started.

It's been an all too familiar story. After nearly three years as second choice in the second city, he's still to finally wrestle the No 1 shirt. His squad number says it all - 13.

"What can I do," said the former Gunner. "I work so hard, I do everything I can, but I have genuinely been unlucky.

"I had a run of three games and was playing really well. Then I did the medial ligament in my knee and I was back in the treatment room, back to square one."

Taylor, though, is still only 27 and refuses to be despondent. His cheery nature and seemingly endless optimism is remarkable.

"Let's face it," he added, "this is a great life and I love it. Villa is a big club - bigger than many down south realise - and we're going in the right direction."

But is there a part of him that still thinks he could have given Lehmann and Almunia a run for their money?

"You can't think like that," he smiled. "I can't look back. I didn't really want to leave Arsenal but I had to - it was just one of those things. It was just a huge privilege to have played for Arsenal at all.