Byline: STEVE STAMMERS
TOMORROW, Jens Lehmann will become the first German goalkeeper to appear in an FA Cup Final since Bert Trautmann was the hero in one of the competition's most amazing tales.
Trautmann, now 81 and living near Frankfurt, helped Manchester City beat Birmingham 3-1 in the 1956 Final, despite playing for much of the match with a broken neck. It was only when he went for an X-ray three days later that the extent of his injury was discovered.
His heroics earned him a place in FA Cup folklore but Lehmann, who met Trautmann in Berlin last year, revealed the achievements of the former City player are not so revered back home.
"He is not that famous in Germany," said the Arsenal No1. "It is a great story but unfortunately the Germans are always looking at German football and German legends.
"I know him well, I know the story and I know how big he is in this country.
Obviously, I don't want to end up like him at the end of the game! But I have great respect for him and if I could just live his long life, I would be a very happy man."
There were periods this season, however, when the [pounds sterling]1.5million signing from Borussia Dortmund two years ago was anything but a happy man.
After a 2-1 defeat at Liverpool in November, Lehmann lost his place in the team to Spaniard Manuel Almunia and manager Arsene Wenger kept the German on the sidelines for 11 games. Lehmann said: "Why did he drop me? I don't care to be honest. I would be bothered too much. It happened - and at a big club sometimes it happens because ambitions are so high.
Maybe it happened for something good, you never know.
"I think I have conceded even fewer goals than during the fantastic season when we were unbeaten. I came back very fresh.
"The boss took me out of the team because he said I wasn't looking that fresh and all I can say is that I am now in very, very good physical shape.
Now I want to maintain it."
Lehmann also revealed that during his exile he changed his training schedule on the advice of Arsenal goalkeeping coach Gerry Peyton and fitness coach Tony Colbert.
"I reduced the training level because of the freshness," he said.
"When you are not fresh, you have to do a little bit less. There was always a lot of expectations of me and that is why I couldn't afford to let myself down.
"I had to work hard because there is a trophy to win with Arsenal and it is important to me to play in the German national team. So sulking would have been the wrong way."
Lehmann's absence from the side came as Arsenal tried to come to terms with their midseason slump, which was triggered by their 2-0 defeat away to Manchester United in October.
That match signalled the end of their 49-game unbeaten league run and Lehmann said: "I was part of the team that lost and everybody went down after that. …