Nicklas Bendtner has announced he is set to leave the Emirates this summer and there are a number of Arsenal fans who would be willing to shell out for his taxi. Since returning to the club in 2007, following a successful loan spell with Birmingham City, the 23-year-old has had more than his share of criticism, so it’s only fair to defend him a little. Ok, he’s not Thierry Henry, but you can’t expect 226 goals from all of your strikers and Bendtner doesn’t deserve the stick he gets from the Arsenal fans. He offers a lot to the team and doesn’t seem to get any recognition for his efforts.
One thing Bendtner can do well – probably better than any other Arsenal player in fact – is cross. He’s not a winger, but his deliveries from the flanks have been more accurate than the likes of Theo Walcott and full backs Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna in recent seasons. It’s a shame when he crosses the ball so well that he can’t be in the box to receive it, because he is also one of the few Arsenal players with any heading ability. So many times have Arsenal been lambasted for not having a plan B when their neat passing play fails against the destroyers like Stoke City. Bendtner is a player who can offer that plan B with the physical presence he possesses. He is able to win most aerial challenges and can also hold the ball up to bring the wingers into play. Arsenal supporters might not like to see their side playing long ball but sometimes you need another outlet if you’re getting nowhere trying to playing attractive football. When Henry was at Arsenal, his seeing pace allowed them to play their fair share of Route One football!
Another aspect of his game as a centre forward that Bendtner should be applauded for is his positional play. Whenever he misses a chance, you’ll hear the cries of disapproval ringing around the Emirates. The reason he may miss a few chances in a match is because he will get himself into the dangerous positions more often than other players. His positional judgement is excellent and he reads the game well enough to allow him the number of chances he gets. Even if he does miss 12 chances per game, he will probably slot one home. Score a goal a game and you are doing your job.
Ultimately, strikers will be judged on their goalscoring records and looking at Bendtner’s stats for the Gunners, you might understand the fans’ frustrations. 45 goals in 153 appearances represents a return of 0.29 goals per game. Ian Wright and Thierry Henry did not become Highbury legends with goal to game ratios like that. But to define Bendtner simply as a 0.29 goals per game striker would be spectacularly unfair. 79 of those 153 appearances were starts, while he came off the bench 74 times. It’s not easy to come off the bench and change a game in 20 minutes, while Bendtner has also been deployed in a wide right position by Arsene Wenger many times. This taken into account, along with his 20-odd assists for Arsenal and his return doesn’t seem that bad. Unfortunately, a strikers who offer more than just goals aren’t always given the credit they deserve. It is only in recent seasons that the critics of Emile Heskey have begun to realise what he offers his team-mates.
Arsenal fans never seem to have taken to Bendtner. While he may not be as prolific as Ian Wright or as technically gifted as Dennis Bergkamp, the way a lot of the Arsenal fans groan whenever he gets on the ball is disgraceful. He’s a young player who will definitely improve and could do with the backing of his own supporters. But if Bendtner cannot see himself getting regular first team football, he is probably right to seek a move away from the Emirates. Given a regular run of games, Bendtner has the ability to be a top striker, particularly in the right pairing up front. Hamburg are understood to be leading the chase to sign the Danish international, but with Tottenham, Stoke and Aston Villa also being linked with a move for the 23-year-old, Bendtner could well come back and haunt the Arsenal.