It’s a tough time to be a young player at Arsenal. Take Theo Walcott for example. On Wednesday, he was accused of lacking a football brain, written off by certain fans and pundits. However, by Saturday night, Walcott was being hailed for his ‘super show’ against Burnley, with the media and supporters lining up a new villain…
Fresh from scoring an awesome header against Stoke City last week (and another headed effort for his country on Wednesday), Nicklas Bendtner failed to convert several guilt edged opportunities at the Emirates on Saturday afternoon. Predictably, just as Walcott’s ability has been the subject of debate, Bendtner’s long-term future at Arsenal beyond this season has now been questioned in certain quarters.
Burnley boss Brian Laws joked on Sky Sports’ ‘Goals on Sunday’ that Bendtner was his best player, and yet whilst said in jest, Arsenal fans may be concerned about the Dane’s missed opportunities. Whilst Arsenal won the game comfortably 3-1 in the end, Arsenal had to survive a few late scares with the score at 2-1 before Asharvin put the match to bed minutes before the close. Most notably, Bendtner missed the chance to make it 3-1 on 66 minutes, a goal that would effectively have ended the game as a contest. Walcott squared the ball first time only for the Dane to miss the target from eight-yards out. You could literally hear certain sections of the media sharpening their knives with every passing second.
Bendtner certainly has his critics at Arsenal. He has been labelled clumsy and slow, with his passing below Arsenal standard. Bendtner is prone to miss easy opportunities-his horror show on Saturday not being an isolated incident. His Premier League goal scoring record is also not overly impressive. In 74 appearances for Arsenal Bendtner has scored 17 goals, roughly a goal every four games. For a team that creates as many opportunities as Arsenal, arguably, Bendtner needs to be doing better. If Arsenal had drawn the game on Saturday for example, or if Arsenal had been playing better opposition, it may be more difficult for Arsenal fans to be so forgiving toward the Danish international.
Notwithstanding Bendtner’s scoring record for Arsenal however, it is prudent to note that for Denmark, Bendtner averages a goal roughly every three games, despite being just 22 years old. Another factor in Bendtner’s defence is that, put simply, he is a handful. He is a powerful, excellent in the air, and his movement occupies opposition defences single handed. Whilst these attributes may not always contribute to goals scored by Bendtner himself, his movement provides space for his teammates to find pockets of space. Bendtner may not be a skilful player in the mould of Thierry Henry or other Arsenal legends, but he is vital to Wenger’s current 4-3-3 formation whilst Robin Van Persie is injured. Arsenal’s shape and attacking cohesion certainly lacks conviction without the physical presence that Bendtner offers.
Ultimately Bendtner is in much the same situation as Theo Walcott. Both are young, and yet find themselves regularly playing for Arsenal and their country, and so must deal with the resulting pressure. However, with youth comes inconsistency and so perhaps patience is required. Whilst Wayne Rooney and Cesc Fabregas exploded onto the scene at 16 or 17 years old, not every player will be the finished article in their early 20s. Therefore, before Walcott is accused of lacking a football brain, or Bendtner lacking a killer instinct, perhaps the pair should be afforded the courtesy of reaching their mid-20s before they are written off as a bad job.
It may well be that Bendtner never quite makes the grade at Arsenal, and will find himself once again on the periphery of the team once Van Persie is fully fit, or if Wenger brings in a new centre forward in the summer. However, all Bendtner can do is keep working hard, and keep progressing (working on his finishing might be a nice place to start) and he may come good for the Arsenal just yet. Whilst Bendtner found himself the villain on Saturday, he can easily redeem himself with a good performance against Porto on Tuesday night. After all, a lot can happen in a week… Just ask Theo Walcott.