The two goalkeepers battled for a place in the starting line-up following Almunia’s arrival in 2004.
Lehmann had already been at the club for a season, cementing his place as no.1 following the departure of club legend David Seaman, when Almunia was drafted in by Arsene Wenger from Celta Vigo to provide competition.
Almunia insisted that at first it was a dream working relationship.
“So when I got to Arsenal and I found this super goalkeeper, one of my idols, one of my favourite goalkeepers ever, I couldn’t believe it,” Almunia said. “I found that super-professional player with strong character, a winner and I really, really enjoyed [working with him],” Almunia told the Athletic.
Despite Wenger preferring Lehmann for much of the first few years, Almunia eventually ousted the World Cup winner in the 2007-08 season, leading to training ground bust-up before Lehmann moved elsewehre.
“The problems came when I was very excited and very fit, training well with so much energy and at that same time [Lehmann] wasn’t having his best time at Arsenal, so when Arsene Wenger decided to change the no.1… he’s a winner and he took it very badly, which is normal,” Almunia added.
“He’s a national-team goalkeeper, big name, and I’m a small goalkeeper from Spain who comes along and makes it difficult for him — he’s thinking, ‘What the hell? This is not possible?’ So yes, we had difficult moments.”
Almunia revealed he would regularly hope Lehmann would make mistakes and suggested that was “normal” between rivalling goalkeepers.
But Almunia also explained how they eventually parted on good terms after attending a club dinner with their wives.
“They [Lehmann and his wife] just started talking to us like friends, like nice people, you know? I looked at my wife like, ‘Can you believe this?’ But from that moment we had a very good relationship.”