Nicklas Bendtner has been criticised from several perspectives this season. The main issue concerns an unwavering confidence that borders on arrogance. The great players have the arrogance to try something special, something different to change the course of the game. Ronaldo in his first few seasons had an addiction to the step-over. He stuck at it, never doubting himself, and now has added every aspect to his game, cementing his position among the world’s elite at present. While this is not a total comparison, Bendtner has the same confidence to his game.
Many compare the role of the fourth choice striker, with Julio Baptista’s loan stint and Bendtner’s this year. Many forget to realise this is his first year in the first team squad at a big club. His return has been 7 goals and 7 assists in 35 appearances (14 starts), while Baptista achieved 10 goals and 8 assists in the same number of appearances (17 starts). While ‘la Bestia’ scored a large proportion of his goals in the Carling Cup and more specifically at Anfield, Bendtner’s goals have come across all 4 competitions, including important winners and equalisers and against Tottenham and Aston Villa respectively. His international career is developing well with 7 goals in 16 games for Denmark.
Both players have a physique apparently well suited to the English game, although Baptista complained at the physicality of some sides and English culture in general. Bendtner, having played at Birmingham on loan, has coped well in this respect. The use of statistics is flawed, considering Baptista’s ability to arrive in the ‘Position of Most Opportunity’ (I bet Gavin Peacock thought he sounded intelligent when he thought of ‘POMO’), he missed more chances, due to a lack of a deft first touch and need for more time. Also appearances do not consider minutes played, as Baptista started a great number of games with Henry and Van Persie being injured and Aliadiere being inept.
A similar issue affects Bendtner, seen in the first half against Liverpool, where he should have help the ball up well, for support to arrive but could not. Yet leading the line at a young age is extremely difficult and requires discipline to stay on side, and take up advantageous positions. His unfortunate knack of snatching at shots, such as against Portsmouth away in the final minute and on Saturday, when he passed it straight at Reina, reveals a load on his shoulders to reach his fantastic potential. A lack of understanding with his team-mates, with Bendtner being a more static player in comparison to the indefatigable Adebayor, and his lack of off-the-ball movement to create space for his team-mates should no longer be the case after more exposure in the starting XI. He and Adebayor are similar in the way they think footballistically (to borrow a word from Arsene), setting aside their personal differences, whatever they may be, make the same runs, be it the back post, or in coming short to pick the ball up before laying it off (as seen at Wigan).
Bendtner has had fewer chances due to this lack of movement. This can be seen by our lack of goals from open play, in many of the games which he has played recently, coinciding with fatigue and a dip in form. Yet Nicklas plays in a side that has scored 100 goals in all competitions at the time of writing, with a much larger contribution from midfield, while Baptista played in a struggling team where the lack of goals was evident. When playing with a partner, he appears to thrive, knocking balls down with ease to the player leading the line, such as Eduardo in the Carling Cup. Playing as a left-sided striker as Wenger changed tactics against Liverpool, he saw more of the ball, including one Ibrahimovic-esque run, with a great change of pace and direction, and pull back only for Carragher to cut it out for a corner. He improved the weight of his passes and touch to allow a more effective performance, helped no doubt by the presence of Adebayor, who provided an attacking focus. His final minute headed pass to Hleb showed there is spatial awareness concerning his team-mates, yet Hleb missed another opportunity to shoot.
While the majority of Bendtner’s goals have come from aerial situations, with several headers and the goal against Villa scored from a knockdown, there are voices claiming him to be one-dimensional, while on the other hand, claims he has surpassed Adebayor are excessive to the extreme. He appears to be deceptively quick, despite sometimes overrunning the ball, when a simple pass was a better option, and his ability to shrug off challenges has added to Arsenal’s new-found steel.
His temperament can be questioned with a disappointing pattern of lunging for the ball, which can appear dangerous due to his build. While some pundits claim his sending-off against Everton was a ‘striker’s challenge’, a footballer should learn how to tackle or defend set-pieces, with the side conceding goals due to individual mistakes, something Bendtner has been guilty of. Yet once more, his fantastic aerial ability does help here, therefore we can ignore the instances where his errors have caused opposition goals as anomalies.
Bendtner has shown glimpses of potential and is better than many of Europe’s top strikers were at that age, yet will be compared to strikers of a similar age capable of genius such as one Sergio Aguero. Do not doubt him or chastise him for preventing a Cesc goal last week whatever happens at Anfield on Tuesday. Compare Adebayor of now to the one who seemed incapable of finishing early in his Arsenal career. With the same guidance Nicklas will come good.
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