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Football: I WON'T CHANGE; Defiant Lehmann raps: It's why Gunners snapped me up.

Byline: Darren LEWIS

VOLATILE Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann has vowed never to change - despite Monday's moment of madness which has landed him in trouble with the FA.

Lehmann has been reported to Soho Square for angrily throwing the ball at Saints striker Kevin Phillips's head after the win which put the Gunners a point behind leaders Manchester United.

The German keeper, sent off FIVE times in the last five seasons for old club Borussia Dortmund, claimed he reacted because he had been baited by Phillips during the match.

He said last night: "Arsenal bought me for the way I play, so I can't change. They want me to play the way I have always done.

"Of course I don't want to get booked. But I have to protect myself because my game is to get out to crosses. I play as a 'sweeper keeper' and that's part of my game."

Lehmann, warned to his future conduct by the FA only two months ago after his part in the Battle of Old Trafford, explained his latest flashpoint, saying: "Phillips pushed me in the back and was standing on my foot and you must be punished for that. But it was nothing special.

He joked: "We are football players and this is normal. They should suspend me for one year!"

Only last week Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger praised Lehmann for the speed with which he has settled in to make himself the natural successor to David Seaman.

But Monday's flashpoint showed the darker side to the Gunners' summer signing.

Among his dismissals for Dortmund, Lehmann saw red in the 1998/99 season for pulling an opponent's hair.

He was also sent off twice last season, for firstly arguing with the referee and then with his own team-mate Mauricio Amoroso.

Meanwhile Lehmann has aimed a blast at German national keeper Oliver Kahn, insisting he, and not the error-prone Bayern Munich star, should be his country's first choice for Euro 2004.

Kahn was the player of the tournament at the 2002 World Cup, but blundered in the Final to hand Brazil a 2-0 win.

Although the Germans have made it to Portugal next summer, they have done so despite a poor qualifying campaign and have lost eight straight matches against the so-called "big nations", including Spain, Italy and France.

Lehmann said: "Apparently it's taken as read I am the number two. But we have lost against all the big nations. Maybe it's time for the experts to reconsider certain assumptions. This would give me a chance of playing. I deserve to play at Euro 2004."

Asked whether he was better than Kahn, he stated: "That's not for me to judge. But I have made very few mistakes in the past years.

"If there is any justice, I will be playing. The Germany coach Rudi Voller once said 'Good players attract attention through good performances over a long time and not through scandals off the pitch or talk'. My goal is to play."

That appears to be a swipe at Kahn who has attracted some unwanted headlines over turmoil in his private life.

Lehmann added: "I am convinced I will play at Euro 2004 given I stay healthy and everything continues as it is," he said.

"There are certain truths in sport and they apply on the pitch. That's why I'm so convinced."

Lehmann also revealed he intends to persuade Wenger to recruit West Germany's 1974 World Cup winning keeper Sepp Maier as Arsenal's goal-keeping coach.

Lehmann said: "I would love that."

CAPTION(S):

SMILES BETTER: Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann faces an FA rap for throwing the ball at Southampton's Kevin Phillips, but he vows he won't alter his style; BUST-UPS: Lehmann clashes with referee Bennett, Tottenham's Postiga and referee Dunn
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 31, 2003
Words:626
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