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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 May 2006, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Arsenal's new guard
By Nathan Mercer

Jens Lehmann kept 10 Champions League clean sheets
Arsenal's unexpected success in this year's Champions League stemmed from solid rear-guard performances in the Gunners' defence.

The back four kept a record-breaking 10 clean sheets en-route to the final despite being without injured regulars Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole and Lauren.

Philippe Senderos, Emmanuel Eboue and Mathieu Flamini were thrown in to the starting line-up charged with keeping out the attacks of Juventus, Villarreal and Real Madrid's Galacticos.

Arsenal's last European success came in the 1994 Cup Winners' Cup when they held out Parma's stars for a characteristic '1-0 to the Arsenal' win.

Today's new-look rear guard has evolved from offside traps and no-nonsense defending and will be hoping to make their own piece of history in their own style.

Former Arsenal manager Terry Neill looks at how today's new guard have filled the breach and formed a formidable unit.


The German keeper was dropped earlier in the season in the hope that he would come back stronger and more determined.

That was to be the case as Lehmann produced some stunning displays that culminated in a heroic last-gasp penalty save against Villarreal's Juan Roman Riquelme in the semi-final.

"Lehmann has been immense and a lot of the credit must go to goalkeeping coach Gerry Payton who has settled Jens down and brought the best out of him," said Neill.

Lehmann's form has made him Germany's first choice for the World Cup

"Jens has added his experience to the young back four and has become the sweeper behind the unit.

"His ability on crosses makes it easier for the back line to defend and the reshuffle has brought the best out of him.

"He has relished the challenge and has been the calming influence behind the back four.

"I'm sure Wenger and the coaches have drilled it in to him that he needed to reassure the young defenders in front of him, and he's done that."


Eboue came into the side after first-choice right-back Lauren was ruled out for the second half of the season with a knee injury.

His attacking runs and physical strength down the right have put him in contention to retain his place when the Cameroonian returns next season.

Eboue has taken advantage of Lauren's injury

"Lauren was doing exceptionally well at right back but he got injured and now it will be very difficult to replace Eboue," said Neill.

"His energy, pace and determination have made him a frightening full-back and I call him a warrior.

"He is almost like a right-winger cutting in and providing attacks. He is very much an attacking threat for the side. He provides relief for the natural right midfielder who can cut in to support the front two."


The Ivorian has relished the responsibility placed upon him since Campbell's absence from the centre of defence.

At 25, Toure showed maturity beyond his years and provided a cool head when others around him lost their confidence.

Toure has been one of Arsenal's most consistent performers

"This Champions League campaign has seen the emergence of Toure who has become the boss and the old man of the back four," said Neill.

"His pace and athleticism provides cover for the slower Senderos and he has grown in stature with each game.

"Toure seems to have no fear going forward either which provides the midfield with an extra outlet going forward."


Senderos recovered from a shaky start to the season and produced some assured performances in the heart of the defence.

Once billed as the 'new Tony Adams', Senderos will play an important role in the World Cup with his native Switzerland.

Senderos displaced Sol Campbell for much of the season

"Senderos has benefited from the safety net of Toure's pace. He's not the quickest in the world but he's determined and wins a lot in the air where Toure is not as effective," said Neill.

"Like the rest of the back four he had the confidence to make tackles and close players down up the field because he knew Toure would sweep up if he got caught out for pace.


The 23-year-old is Arsenal's eighth-choice left-back but has more than held his own against some of Europe's best wingers.

Brought as a central midfielder, Flamini has filled Arsenal's troublesome position comfortably and his endless enthusiasm made up for him being naturally right-footed.

"Flamini said to Wenger he thought he was wrong to play him at left-back as it was a position he'd never played in his life," said Neill.

Flamini is Arsenal's eighth left-back this season

"To see a right-footed left full-back getting down the wing was incredible.

"He doesn't have the pace of Cole and he's not a naturally left-footed player so that gave him some imbalance.

"While he was attacking he would have to check back on to his favoured foot and that was often tricky.

"But it was also difficult to play against, that imbalance and unpredictability was a strength for Arsenal going forward.


Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger is in no doubt the new guard can reach the heights of those who have gone before.

He said: "The ingredients are there. They have the qualities to do as well as their predecessors.

"They have good examples to follow in what the former players have done."

Neill said: "Behind the scenes Martin Keown has been there on the training ground doing his coaching badges and I don't think they could have had better mentors than Keown and Pat Rice.

"George Graham made sure the back four defended and kept clean sheets whereas Wenger likes his players to have the freedom and express it and go forward more.

"The famous back four had a long time together without the disruption of injuries, that makes this makeshift back four all the more remarkable."

Interview: Barcelona's Giovanni van Bronckhorst

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