Freedman_jonah
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  • 05:48 PM ET  05.05
LONDON -- I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s been a forgettable season for Arsenal. After all, the Gunners were on fire for the first six months of the season, played some beautiful soccer along the way and knocked AC Milan out of the Champions League. But when it all fell apart, it fell apart spectacularly, and it’s another trophyless season.

From that perspective, there wasn’t much to cheer about at Emirates Stadium on Sunday in Arsenal’s home finale, a somewhat drab 1-0 win over Everton. But it surprised even me when the fans gave Jens Lehmann a huge ovation when the German keeper came on as a sub late in the game.

The guy was clutch during his five seasons at Arsenal, and won three trophies during his tenure in goal. But Lehmann has been such a prickly character under Arsène Wenger, at times vocally egotistical and notoriously broody when he’s benched or pulled early. (His feud with fellow German national-team keeper Oliver Kahn reached almost bad soap-opera status.) Over the past two seasons, as Manuel Almunia emerged as Wenger’s new No. 1 of choice, we really got a shot of Lehmann’s surliness.

It seemed like every other week, the German was taking shots at his manager in the German press, that he was “hurt,” “angry,” “saddened” -- pretty everything running the gamut of unhappy smiley-face emoticons. With his contract up, Lehmann took his final bow on Sunday (the 38-year-old is headed elsewhere for sure next season), especially during the “lap of honor” the team took after the final whistle to express their gratitude to the fans for their support all season.

And it was moving. With the season finishing in shambles (really, shouldn’t Arsenal fans expect a Champions League berth, not as a consolation prize?), the fans really let Lehmann know what he has meant to them. The German looked like he was practically in tears during the standing ovation. Now that’s about as rare a sight as there is. (My buddy Jeremy took that pic above.)

Yes, it was a farewell and a goodbye,” Wenger said after the game. “It was to show respect for what Jens has done for us. He is not always an easy character and he would lose his temper, but he got better and better for us and has been fully committed.”

So say what you want about Lehmann’s petulance, his candor that bordered on uncomfortable awkwardness and his frequent, blatant explosions of disrespect. I’ll miss the guy in Arsenal gloves.

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