12 October 2013

Bendtner's boffo brace baffles Buffon

Recently, one of Arsenal's most-promising talents put his foot in it with a public comment so foolhardy that he'll have a hard time living it down. A lot of pundits and critics, yours truly included, took him to task for saying something he might have regretted the very instant the words spilled from his lips. I speak, of course, not of Jack Wilshere's recent molehills made into mountains but of Nicklas Bendtner. He was 22 when, among other gaffes, he said the following:
If you ask me if I am one of the best strikers in the world, I say yes because I believe it. When I see that other strikers score a lot of goals, I realise I need to score those goals, but I think everything else in my game is right even if I believe I can still improve. The goals are the last thing I need to add and when I do I believe I will be the player I want to be. One of the best.
He hasn't ever quite lived up to that boast, of course, but he's shown glimmers of what he can do. Between then and now, he's taken a lot of stick—some richly deserved; some, less-so—but he is hardly the worst person in the world, or the worst player to wear Arsenal red. As such, his performance last night against Italy offers a tantalizing glimpse of what he's capable of: two sharp headers to beat one of the world's (all-time?) best keepers, Gianluigi Buffon, on a night when Buffon became the azzuri's most-capped player of all time, and in a match that Denmark really needed to win. That they came away with a tie can't be pinned on Bendtner as Italy's equalizer came on a cruel deflection in stoppage-time.

During the interlull, of course, we hope for certain things not to happen without worrying too much about what does. Don't get injured. Goals and wins are nice and all, but, above all else, stay healthy. We're through round one with one fresh injury, that on Laurent Koscielny. The silver lining around our squad's raft of injuries is that many of them are not available for international duty. Fine. This first round saw little in the way of new injury, and this absence of a negative (by and large) is good news indeed; to have the presence of a positive is therefore encouraging.

Without making too much of the man, Bendtner delivered a fine performance for Denmark, and there's fair reason to hope that he'll find some confidence, er, fitness and form to bring back to Arsenal. He's usually done better for country than for club, but maybe that will change. We'd be far better with him available and in-form than on the bench or on loan. Even if improved play is just a by-word for auditioning for a transfer, it's a win-win. I don't understand the urge to root against someone who plays for Arsenal. As long as he's in the squad, we might as well hope for the best from him, even if it's merely to make him more attractive to the next club down the line.

Of course, Bendtner's flaw, this remarkable ego, does make it hard to root for him. I don't know if he's as insufferable as a Cole or a Nasri. He may full of himself, but he doesn't seem to come across as being as insufferable as those two (lot of as's in there, if you catch my drift). If he's guilty of anything, it's of letting his ego outstrip his performance. He wouldn't be the first to have committed that sin. For strikers perhaps more than for other players, confidence is crucial, and there's a fine line between confidence and arrogance. The first, for our purposes here, derives its life-blood from performance; the latter simply feeds on itself without much else to support it. To come away with a brace against Italy should bolster Bendter's confidence without inflating his arrogance—or so I'm telling myself.

We're still a long way from having someone who can challenge or replace Giroud should he go down, and that's not something we can effectively address until January at the earliest. There won't be many top-flight strikers looking to make a move mid-year, whether it's because they already play for a club challenging for silverware or because they don't want to unsettle themselves in a World Cup year. That said, if we can continue on anything like the run of form we've been on since April, we'll look more and more attractive. If Bendtner can contribute to that in any way, whether it's in league cup, the Prem, or even the Champions League, that's fine with me. Of course, in vintage Bendterian fashion, he celebrated his second goal by removing his jersey, drawing a yellow card, so he won't be available for Denmark's match next week against Malta and their -17 goal-differential. Sigh. One step forward, two steps back, eh, Nick? Maybe this just means he'll be rested up for Norwich?

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