David Showell

Nothing in football seems to polarise fans more than the plus and minus points of a striker. With the exception of the likes of Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres, most centre forwards seem to have their champions and their detractors. For every “get in there, son” there’s a “my granny could have scored that”.

Nicklas Bendtner is a classic example, having scored some hugely important goals, and missed more than his fair share of sitters. The big Arsenal front-man has had a good run in the side this season, but has struggled to win over his critics. Time will tell if he becomes a Great Dane or a Damp Squib.

Bendtner joined The Gunners as a bright-eyed teenager and immediately made his mark in the reserves. Striking up a formidable partnership with Arturo Lupoli, now at Ascoli, he was soon catching the eye of Arsenal’s coaching staff.

In 2006, the Dane was loaned out to Birmingham City, where he spent a fruitful season gaining valuable experience in the Championship. 42 matches and 11 goals later, he was on his way back to north London, and Birmingham were on their way back to the Premier League. Around St. Andrews, many of the Birmingham faithful are very complimentary about the young hitman.

Bendtner’s season so far is perhaps a mirror of his career up to now. Some spectacular misses against Burnley brought the wrong type of headlines, and a less confident player may have wilted in the media glare. But faith in his own ability is something he has in abundance, so self-doubt was unlikely to become an issue, with the striker reportedly telling team-mates he will one day be the finest forward in the world. Confidence indeed.

Arsene Wenger, shrewd man-manager that he is, refused point blank to even allow a single critical syllable to pass his lips, concentrating instead on the fact that his striker managed to get himself in good positions in the first place. Stressing the positives was to bring significant benefits just four days later.

The Dane’s response on the following Wednesday was a hat-trick in a vital Champions League drubbing of FC Porto. Lesser managers than the Frenchman might have dropped Bendtner for his profligate display on the Saturday, but Wenger is shrewd enough to know that sometimes a kick up the backside doesn’t work as well as a kind word and a cuddle.

In the ensuing weeks, his calmness in front of goal brought ultra-late victories at Hull City and at home to Wolves, so it’s fair to say that, love him or hate him, Arsenal would have been out of the championship race already.

It’s worth remembering that Bendtner is still only 22, so there’s a fair chance that his abilities will continue to improve. The Dane signed a new contract with Arsenal in 2009, underlining once again the faith that his manager has in his abilities. Having said that, early indications are that the striker is not likely to become a prolific goalscorer at the Emirates.

It would appear that Bendtner’s true value to Arsenal will more likely be generally as a substitute. Defenders who have spent 70 or minutes trailing the likes of Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie will not relish a tall, powerful striker entering the fray. It’s precisely this different-ness that may provide his long-term role.

In the recent defeat in Barcelona, the striker's determination ended up making a silk purse out of Theo Walcott’s pig’s ear of a pass. It’s fair to say that Bendtner remains a work in progress at Arsenal, so the jury is still out on whether he’ll become a champ or a chump. In the meantime, all he needs to do is keep finding the net.


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