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Bendtner Rising To The Challenge. So Must Arsenal.

The weekend’s results have consolidated positions at the top of the table, a gap now apparent between 3rd and those chasing the last Champions League place. I suspect that Rafa Benitez’s objection to the idea of a play-off for the 4th spot in next season’s competition would be less vociferous were it in place right now.

Nicklas Bendtner has received praise from his manager,

He had a good game on Saturday in fairness to him and we hope that we will click in the final third. We have Arshavin coming back, Diaby coming back, Bendtner in good shape and Walcott in good shape. It will be very important from game to game now that everybody is available

No mention of Eduardo in his comments which could simply be an oversight but perhaps a touch indicative that there is not complete confidence that the Croat’s injury woes are fully over. His absences may yet prove to be the opportunity that Bendtner needs to get his full run in the side.

Wenger observed that the Dane has the mental strength to succeed at the highest level, although comparisons with Rooney and Drogba were dismissed,

He has common sense, accepts observations and tries to use them in a positive way. He has a good team attitude. He is quite confident, I must say. But that’s not a bad thing for a striker. There’s nothing wrong with it as long as you’re able to prove your confidence on the pitch

Not that it was all effusive,

He can improve a lot but how much he can improve is down to how hard he will work

And that sums Bendtner up; he is very much a work in progress but is shaping to be able to fulfil the promise he showed at the junior level. His finishing is improving and will no doubt bring him a higher scoring return per game than he currently achieves.

Unfortunately, he needs patience, a trait sorely missing from Arsenal supporters these days. It will not be long, I am sure, before we are reminded how ‘useless’ he is and that Arsenal will not win anything with Bendtner leading the line. The trigger will probably be a failure to score at Stoke next weekend.

The focus is on the next match rather than winning the league, an emminently sensible attitude that Fabregas, Ramsey and Wenger have put forward. There is a long way to go and many slips will come from the top three. Consistency from here on in will deliver the title to someone and Arsenal has to be more consistent that the others.

No matter that our fixtures are not, on paper, as difficult as the others. Few teams have nothing to play for, most of our opponents will be wanting to ensure survival, matches that in the past have been the squad’s downfall. This time, that problem has been largely eradicated at the expense of points gained in matches against the top two. The question is where United and Chelsea will drop theirs.

Many weekends will see little or no change at the top as expected wins are achieved. A rollercoaster ride thus far with little sign of the journey becoming any easier.

’til Tomorrow.

Great Dane And Not Letting The Season Go To The Dogs

Local DIY stores have reported a slowdown in the sales of ropes, the numbers of people wearing Arsenal shirts demanding ready-made nooses has diminished following Chelsea’s draw at Hull last night. How long that will last for remains to be seen, although a victory at Stamford Bridge does not concern the retailers, knowing full well that a surge in demand will arise the next time results and performances do not go to plan.

The squad is slowly edging back to full fitness, with only the long-term absentees, Gibbs, Djourou and van Persie, definitely out for the weekend. Diaby, Eduardo and Campbell will apparently have recovered from their various knacks as the onslaught of fixtures continues. It does give Wenger options if he wants to shake things up following the defeat at home to United.

The Dane in particular has an opportunity to press his case for leading the Arsenal line. Adebayor’s departure and van Persie’s long-term absence should have given him that chance already but missing all of the fixtures since October has hampered his cause.

Bendtner is the latest in a stream of forwards coming through from youth and reserve levels who have promised much but never been able to transfer their form at younger levels. As far back as 1990, Andy – sorry, Andrew –  Cole was spoken of as a very real long-term prospect in the Graham era, falling out with Graham not conduicive to being given the chance.

In Wenger’s time, the situation has not changed considerably. However, Bendtner has proven he can score at international level and not just against smaller nations either, averaging a goal every three games, a decent record at that level. The Portuguese in particular being a defence he enjoys playing against, Bendtner scoring in three matches against them.

He has not yet been able to score regularly enough, contributing factors being played out of position and substitute appearances. He is though nothing less than perservering; missed chances do not see his head drop, willing to be back in the place again when the next chance comes along.

Bendtner does give the option of varying the attack, his height an advantage, almost bringing Arsenal into line of the ‘Big man, little man‘ duo but it masks how good his close control can be. Whether he is the solution for Sunday is another matter. If Eduardo is fit, I suspect he will be the central attacker, supported by Rosicky and Arshavin.

With the fixture being at Stamford Bridge, it seems unlikely that a gung-ho attitude would be adopted. Something similar to the approach in this fixture last season more likely. Chelsea will seek to dominate and it is up to the squad to be ready.

Personally, I’m looking forward to it. The chance to prove that Sunday’s defeat was an aberration, a one-off almost inexplicable collective loss of form is surely the motivation that is needed? If not, the chance to be within a win of Chelsea at the end of the game, refusing to be dumped out of the title race to suit the whims of journalists and pundits alike.

’til Tomorrow.

Early Blackburn News, Cesc & Win…

Hangovers no doubt abound at London Colney, the sugar rush from all the tizers with jelly and ice cream at Arsene’s birthday party wreaking havoc with the squad’s fitness for the Blackburn match on Sunday.

Definitely missing is Eduardo who has apparently aggravated his thigh-knack. Probably just as well with Fatboy Sam’s approach to Arsenal being generally on the wrong side of thuggishness, a trait already well-ingrained in the Blackburn players by Mark Hughes.

Nicklas Bendtner will no doubt be making a small offering ahead of the match as well. If the Dane was not a religious man before his crash, he is now. He is apparently fit for selection which will no doubt be happening with Eduardo’s absence. Theo Walcott will probably be back on the bench, the England international believing it will take him half a dozen matches to get back to full fitness. So just in time for England’s extremely pointless and hugely lucrative trip to Qatar to play Brazil in November whereupon he will no doubt suffer some sort of relapse.

Cesc has re-affirmed that he is committed to Arsenal, with headlines no doubt about to spun the other way in the hope of driving you all insane with rage. The truth is that he has said nothing different to anything previous. Indeed, some of the phrases are so standard you wonder if he has made a voice recording with full transcription and told hacks to take the parts that they want to use.

I am not sure why this is a big story anymore? Everyone knows that he would like to go back to Spain to play in La Liga at some point in the future because he has said that. It may mean next summer, it might not be for another five years. The most telling point made recently was that he did not want to be a pawn in the elections that are unfurling at the Camp Nou next summer, a shot across the bows for all of the candidates. Not that they will take any notice.

It seems that the Catalans have a list of key phrases to be repeated until it is accepted that they are true, Xavi repeating the DNA claim made not so long ago by Laporta. Who cares if Barcelona are in his blood? Until a deal is struck between the two clubs, there is absolutely nothing that they can do about it. The acid test is whether or not Cesc is prepared to make a transfer request and forgo all of the bonuses accrued under his contract or whether the Catalans are prepared to pay the hyper-inflated fee required for his services. Thus far, neither of those desires has been apparent and therefore Cesc is an Arsenal player, seemingly no less committed to the team than he has been in the past.

It seems that the most likely departure in coming times is to be Ken Friar who has apparently indicated that he wants to stand down from active involvement at Arsenal and have a well-deserved retirement. A part of Arsenal for 60 years, there is a hell of a book to be written by him that could quite possibly match Bob Wall’s Arsenal From The Heart and Bernard Joy’s Forward, Arsenal! as a history of the club.

Which is a nice little segue, and in no way to contrived, to point you in the direction of the excellent GCR Books who are running a competition to win one of the titles from the burgeoning library which will soon include Eddie Hapgood’s Football Ambassador. If you have not already purchased a copy of any of the titles there, you know that you really ought to do so.

’til Tomorrow

Bendtner, Ade-bye-bore and The Usual Guff

One mystery is resolved, Arsene’s interview as quoted in yesterday’s Daily Mirror and widely reproduced was in fact from the Official Arsenal Magazine, rather than being an exclusive bout of repartee as intimated by the, ahem, rag. Indeed, it was from the same interview from which this morning’s praise of Nicklas Bendtner is derived. In terms of the comments Arsene made, there is nothing more that he said about Bendtner.

There are parallels between Bendtner and Kevin Campbell. The latter was in football terms, an absolute monster for the reserves and youths, setting records that lasted through the years. As part of a double act, Campbell was partnered by Andy Cole who never made the grade at Arsenal although one wonders how much of that was George Graham or the player’s own impatience at not being given a first team chance. I have a vague recollection of Cole turning out at some point during the tedious 1991 Charity Shield against the Tiny Tots but nothing much more than that. Bendtner meanwhile was partnered by Arturo Lupoli who has become something of a journeyman even with his tender years, returning from Italy to The Championship.

The point with Bendtner is that his career at club and international level are not in tandem. He is well established in the Danish squad without securing a starting place in the Arsenal team. He is a player not short on confidence which is something that stood him in good stead during his barren run in the first half of the season and at times in the second half, particularly during the Blackburn game when even with a twenty foot goal, I suspect he would have skewed the ball wide. It was one of those afternoons for the lad. Every footballer in any position in any league has them. Some suffer them more frequently than others, fewer in a higher profile situation. Yet he came back for more, willing to put himself in a position to miss, a sign of his strength of character.

Bendtner’s character draws attention to himself. He has the self-belief that good strikers require, the confidence in his own abilities to help him through the hard times. His youthful exuberance will be curbed over time and I would have to agree with Wenger that such is his all-round game, the Dane has real possibilities of developing into a great centre-forward.

Which is just as well since Adebayor’s Mr20% is mouthing off once more, claiming that Adebayor would like to work with Ancelotti and has been contacted by ‘an important club’. Defining the word important would be key to understanding which club because unless they are direct rivals of Arsenal, for all intents and purposes, they are unimportant until the suitcase full of used fivers turns up in Gazidis’ office.

Apparently, Stephane Courbis spoke with Wenger and was not told that the player was for sale but assumed this to mean that Arsenal has ‘economic problems‘ which could be solved by his client moving. For Adebayor, the comments reflect badly in some eyes, further fuelling stances against him. I doubt that anyone would believe him if he issued a denial in the same manner as Sagna. It seems that the only thing he would benefit from in the PR sense would be a summer of silence from Team Adebayor.

I could waffle on about Toure to Manchester City as some seem to think will happen although reports this morning suggest they have offered Everton £15m and chocolate hobnobs for their Board meetings if the Toffees decide to let them have a Lescott. Apparently Everton will not even consider the bid unless Rich Tea’s are thrown in but have refused outright Garibaldi’s. Crumbs! That really takes the biscuit.

’til Tomorrow.

Albion Throstled By Bendtner

West Bromwich Albion 1 – 3 Arsenal

0 – 1 Bendtner (4)
1 – 1 Brunt (7)
1 – 2 Toure (38)
1 – 3 Bendtner (44)

A vital win and every indication that Transport for London have something to do with training the forwards; nothing for ages and then three goals come along at once. Having been dropped for the Fulham match, Nicklas Bendtner rightfully earned the praise passed his way after the match by Arsene Wenger. For the Dane, the only flipside would have been the woodwork and wayward finishing that denied him a hat-trick. The goals serve a timely reminder of what is needed with the imminent returns to fitness of Eduardo and Adebayor; if the pressure of knowing those players are almost ready to take his place in the side focussed him, fair play to the Dane.

In truth, it was a relatively straightforward match and opposition who allowed Arsenal to play, WBA suitably punished for such tactics. It is not hard to see why they are struggling nor why the majority of their peers at the bottom tend to be more defensively-minded against the top four clubs. Tony Mowbray deserves credit for sticking to his beliefs. Before the game, Wenger observed that in the long-run, such beliefs get their reward. Whether Mowbray is afforded the luxury of time is another matter; it would seriously buck the trend of current boardroom philosophies if he allowed the opportunity to attempt to win promotion following the relegation which seems unstoppable.

The opening goal was simplicity. The Albion defence cleared the ball to Denilson whose precise pass found Bendtner’s green boots on the right side of the area. His shot was not the most powerfully struck but it was certainly precise, Carson left with no chance of stopping it. A defence that had not conceded for the previous four Premier League games might have been expected to provide a strong platform to build on from there. As it was, the topsy-turvy world of Arsenal this season proved to be no exception last night. Song and Eboue were culpable as they provided no barrier to Brunt’s free kick three minutes later, Almunia as helpless as those two were hapless.

If the opener was simple so were the second and third. Toure was unmarked as he met Arshavin’s free kick, almost scuffing his header downwards and into the net whilst the Ivoirian’s pass to Bendtner could not have been more straightforward, the Dane cushioning it on his thigh before stroking the ball home.

Singling out one player for Man of the Match is not easy since the game itself was relatively ‘easy’. Albion did not really test Almunia, his save from Moore’s shot, low at the foot of his left post, being the only notable one that I can remember this morning. Wenger, though, praised Bendtner:

It’s different when you play for Arsenal, you are being compared to the players who played five, six or 10 years ago. But you have to accept that a guy who is 19 or 20 years old will better every three, six months. He has shown tonight he has the talent to be an Arsenal player. That is the right way to mature. I liked his presence. I liked his attitude and the way he took people on. That shows he has improved.

And a brace of goals that broke the scoring drought helps along the way also. Denilson also deserves praise. His was a mature performance, maintaining possession comfortably and keeping things simple when needed or finding the penetrating passes. Quite simply, it was another good match for the Brazilian. When Wenger reflects on this Premier League campaign, Denilson’s season will be one of the positives that he takes from it. He has been consistent for the team alongside the myriad of his colleagues in the centre; depending upon who is fit at the time, he has been adept at pushing on or holding back to compliment them.

Importantly though Villa now have real pressure on them. The win means they are looking over their shoulders, feeling the Arsenal breath for the first time in a while. Martin O’Neill will be feeling the same emotions that Wenger has been going through recently, dropped points equate to wasted opportunities to push on and consolidate themselves into the top four. Tonight will be a test of their character. Let’s hope they proved to be flawed.

A good day (so far) to be a gooner. ‘til Tomorrow.

Theo, Old Nick And More

Scene cuts to Houses of Parliament. Three figures emerge from blue Police Box

Mickey:    London! We’re home!
Rose:       Brilliant. See told you he’d get you back in time for the football.

Mickey bends down and picks up a paper from the ground

Mickey:    You muppet! They played yesterday! Look, England won in Croatia.
Doctor:    It’s not home. It’s a parallel universe.
Rose:       That’s a bit harsh. Just because England won!
Doctor:    No, look closer. An Arsenal player scored a hat-trick

So, Theo Walcott’s England career comes full circle. Ridiculed through his inclusion in the Germany 2006 World Cup squad, he leads the English into a Brave New World, a squad of players that is in no way related to those who have abjectly failed to qualify for Euro2008 and bottled it at the two previous international tournaments. For Zagreb 2008, read Munich 2001, Belgrade 1987. Great away wins that pump up the hype.
How the BBC, Sky and ITV are kicking their heels and regretting the decision to not bid higher or get into the Setanta bed. The last few days have frankly been embarrassing for them with the pundits being wheeled out to complain about Setanta’s financial requirements for a highlights package. Pundits like Mullers and Thommo who have in no way been employed by the Rupert Murdoch empire. The biter gets bitten and quite amusing it was to watch too. It does not escape the fact that the FA proved once more that they care FA about the game, merely the crisp rustle of fivers emerging from the suitcase which two Setanta goons dropped on their doorstep but that is another story.

Back to young Master Walcott. He thoroughly deserves his praise. The past two games have seen the Theo we all know and love. Well, except for the hat-trick. Infuriatingly good in Barcelona at the weekend, full of energy, some good passes and dropping out of the game for a spell. Last night, he was the same except more direct and for once, the midfield and forwards supported him and read the runs he was making instead of turning inside. And the goals. Three well-taken strikes which hopefully he can bring back into the Premier League with him. Or as he put it,

I tend to cross those a lot but I thought I’d be more greedy this time

Theo, though, is taking it all in his stride,

I’m just grateful [Capello] has given me the opportunity. I’ve got to take that forward now and keep on improving

Capello meanwhile has put the hex on Walcott,

I am happy for Theo. I think he is one of the most important young players in England. I hope he does not pick up an injury

Theo was not the only one who enjoyed the international night as Nicklas Bendtner found the net in Denmark’s win. Thankfully Cesc had a mere fourteen minutes in Spain’s win so he should be nice and fit with early reports showing no injuries to report. Oh, hold on. Samir Nasri did not take part in France’s win due to a ‘niggle’. Ho hum. As Arsene put it,

let’s hope first that everybody comes back without any injury and, secondly, with a positive experience. It is of course a worrying time for the managers

Oh and not for us, eh? Does he realise the agonies some go through? Probably less than the ones he suffers.

On the subject of injuries, Eduardo has been talking positively about his situation,

My leg is getting better all the time and I hope to be back playing again by Christmas. It has been a long road to recovery, and there is still a lot of hard work left to do, but everything is going well and I should be back playing again soon

Ordinarily, they say a returning player is like a new signing, giving everyone a boost. With Arsenal it is a regular occurence these days. However, Eduardo’s return will be, I think, a huge psychological boost for those who witnessed his injury first hand. Hopefully, as well, he will come back with a point to prove, hungry for goals. To me though, the biggest hurdle he faces is the first 50-50 challenge he is involved in. It is a big challenge for him to go for the ball not fearing injury. That his was suffered in a malicious challenge may make that bridge slightly easier for him to cross.

As for Tomas Rosicky, the claim that he might become the ‘forgotten man’ at The Emirates seems wide of the mark to me. When he returns, he will provide Arsene with more options on the left and enable him to rotate the squad, avoiding the wear and tear injuries that have cost us in the past, necessitating Diaby – who incidentally seems set to return in the next week or so – playing there.

Back to those on international duty. Bendtner believes that the matches post-international duty are going to make or break the season,

It’s a strong side that just shows that your squad is great when you have players like that, but it still can upset the balance. You’ve got to come back to all the normal ways. When you have been away you go with the national team the way they do it, and it can be a little bit destructive. It can upset the balance when it’s that close to each other

He was referring to the Fulham match and frankly another performance and result such as the one suffered at Craven Cottage could be hugely damaging. With Liverpool entertaining Manchester United and Chelsea going to Manchester City, there is a good chance for Arsenal to take advantage and rack three points on the board. Blackburn though have a point to prove having been tonked at West Ham. Not straightforward. The key thing is that the players come in raring to go. Few have suffered reverses last night so mentally they ought to be in a ‘good place’.

Bendtner is happy at the club despite summer gossip to the contrary,

I’ve been really happy so far. I said before that I wanted to start more games this season. Last season was sort of like my time getting into the squad and coming off the bench sort of thing, but I feel more ready and more mature this season and I think it will be shown and will keep showing, but there’s still more to come

He has his detractors but he and Adebayor are best of buddies for media eyes anyway,

It’s good, we have no problems, everything is normal and he plays like he did last season

That’s your lot for today. ’til Tomorrow.

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