Nicklas Bendtner has thrust himself into the spotlight recently with his now infamous underpants stunt, and, it must be said, some impressive performances at Euro 2012. But I must admit that for a while I’d kind of forgotten about the player, on loan at Sunderland last season and supposedly on his way out of Arsenal.
It’s easy to understand his frustration at a lack of opportunities at the Emirates. He has often had a lot of good players in front of him, all fighting for only one striker position, and has found himself having to play out wide to accommodate them. Never one to be short of confidence (to the point of arrogance in the eyes of some more critical fans), he might feel he has shown enough to warrant being the focal point of a team, rather than a bit-part, super-sub role.
Frustratingly enough, a backup of his quality is exactly what Arsenal need right now. In the season just past we have relied heavily on one player to be our source of goals. When van Persie had the, in fairness, very occasional bad day in front of goal we suffered. And the worst thing was, that with Chamakh and Park as our options from the bench, we knew there wasn’t much we could do about it.
How good then would it be to have Bendtner back in the squad? I would certainly feel a hell of a lot more confident late in a game with the score at 0-0 with the sight of the big Dane warming up. He has the feel of a player who can change a game, score important goals, and the stats back it up.
Of Bendtner’s 45 goals for Arsenal (in 156 appearances – itself not that impressive, but most of these he would not have started the match) 15 have come in the last ten minutes of games (33.3%), and 8 have been match-winners (17.7%), and very often they were both – think back to 09/10 when we were still in with a shout for the title and, ravaged by injuries, we had to really scrap out some hard-fought wins, with Bendtner providing thrilling last-gap winners against Wolves and Hull.
When the team is struggling, and we find ourselves in need of that ‘Plan B’, he has often shown himself to be the ideal weapon. When we start getting desperate and sending hopeful crosses into the box, he is one of the few players we’ve had who can get on the end of them. 11 of his goals for the club (24.4%) have been headers, some of them superb (equaliser away to Stoke in 09/10) and again a lot of them being late winners (Spurs at home in 07/08, having only been on the pitch for a few seconds).
There is a big role for Bendtner at Arsenal – if he wants it. He won’t always be a starter, but that doesn’t make him unimportant. He can be a game-changer; a secret weapon. I would almost prefer to see him persuaded to stay than us fork out big money for Olivier Giroud who, while obviously promising, is always going to be a bit of a gamble coming from Ligue 1. Chamakh comparisons have been made already elsewhere and there’s a strong case for saying he won’t flop like the Moroccan did, but you just never know; some players take time to adapt; some players, however talented, simply can’t cut it in the Premier League (Diego Forlan ended up being a great La Liga striker, for example). With Bendtner we have a reliable and experienced striker – and he wouldn’t require a transfer fee.
Another forgotten loan star is Carlos Vela, who had an impressive season with Real Sociedad: 12 goals and 8 assists is not bad from one still quite young and who hasn’t played much first-team football for a few years. I feel he, like Bendtner, had a decent goal return considering he got so little playing time. I remember being disappointed he didn’t get more than Carling Cup games, where he showed some tremendous ability, scoring impudent Messi-like chips and terrorising defences. Of course it was only the Carling Cup and it came against some weak opposition, but after Wenger waited so many years for a work permit to bring the highly-rated Mexican to the club, it looked like the start of something special.
However, he seems unhappy with life in England and looks more at home in Spain, perhaps showing himself to be another Forlan. Or in Arsenal terms, another Reyes – talented, but not suited to the English game. Unlike with Bendtner, I can’t really make as much of a case for him being our impact sub, although admittedly it’s hard to imagine him being worse than Chamakh.
Anyway, there is likely to be a lot of movement in the striker department at Arsenal this summer – even if van Persie stays. Perhaps these forgotten men can give us a pleasant surprise next season.