23 January 2014

Against Coventry, look to a Bendtner brace

It's a bit dicey to predict who's going to have a MotM-worthy performance, especially in an FA Cup match when the manager's squad-selection casts an even-wider net than usual. Of course, there are a few players out of contention, namely Ramsey, Arteta, Sanogo, Diaby, Vermaelen, and Walcott. Speaking ahead of the unusual Friday-match (the first such match Arsenal have hosted in almost a decade), Arsène did mention that Nicklas Bendtner is fit enough to be called on, if necessary.

Good enough for me. Continue to rest Giroud and then surround Bendtner with midfielders who can provide plenty of service as well as width: Gnabry on the right, Podolksi on the left, Cazorla through the middle. Between the three of them, there's enough variety to flummox Coventry. Cazorla's balletic, jinky runs, Podolski's hammer-like left, and Gnabry's pace and incisiveness, on the right—these could all make for a very long afternoon for Coventry's back-four, and a very productive one for Bendtner. With crosses whipping in from left and right, and with Cazorla and Podolski the two most-likely to unleash shots from distance, Bendtner should find plenty of opportunities for headers and second-chance put-backs of the sort that he's feasted on in his few appearances. Well, okay, so "feasted" might exaggerate it just a bit when we're discussing a man who has scored just two Prem goals. On the other hand, he's been there when we've needed it, whether it was a second-minute goal against Hull or a more-crucial 88th minute goal to finally open up Cardiff. Let's not forget that he did also score against Man City only to have it disallowed because the offsides rule at the Etihad means "anyone who ever gets behind Man City's defense is offsides". Two goals from 157 minutes leaves him scoring every 79th minute or so, which ain't all that bad. Luis Suarez, in the form of his life, is scoring a goal every 69.4 minutes. I'm not equating the two or suggesting that Bendtner is in Suarez's class by any stretch; after all, Bendtner's sample size is a tenth of Suarez's. All I'm suggesting is that Bendtner is not as piss-poor as his critics like to suggest.

He may never reclaim his status as The Greatest Striker That Ever Lived, but we don't need him to. All we need is for him to play well. As the closest, one-for-one replacement that we have for Giroud at the moment, he can slot in without forcing any significant disruptions to how we set up or how others around him play (as we do when Podolski or Walcott slide over from the wings). Until we get another striker, Giroud is going to need some back-up. At the risk of getting a bit whiny, Giroud is looking ragged, Bendtner is hobbling on that tender ankle, Akpom has been loaned out, and Sanogo has been injured almost from the moment the ink dried on his contract. As such, we simply have to play Bendtner whenever we can afford to. Without slighting or underestimating Coventry (even though that's what I'm about to do), Friday looks to be one of those times.

In fact, I hope that the Great Dane delivers not one, but two goals to help us progress to the next round. It was just around a year ago that we were bounced out by Blackburn due to our failure to score. With Man U's inglorious defeat to Sunderland in the league cup, we have ample warning of how anything can happen in these single-elimination knock-outs.  I was thrilled to death to see Sunderland win, not just because it heaps misery on Mancunia, but because I do like to root for the little guy. Just not on Friday, thanks all the same.