It’s easy to see why he’s slipped out of the forefront of supporters’ minds. He hasn’t pulled on the red and white of Arsenal in two years. His last Arsenal appearance was as an emergency substitute in a cataclysmic 2-0 home defeat to Liverpool at the start of the 2011/12 season.
Shortly after that 10-minute cameo, Bendtner moved on loan to Sunderland. The Danish forward showed occasional promise, but 30 appearances yielded just eight goals. Given Bendtner’s exorbitant wage demands, neither party seemed particularly keen to make the deal permanent.
Bendtner probably felt justified in that decision when he earned another temporary move to Italian champions Juventus. However, it was in Turin that Bendtner’s stock began to dramatically nose-dive.
Injuries and competition severely limited his first-team opportunities. By January, Juventus had wrapped up a deal for Fernando Llorente to join in the summer, and it quickly became clear that Bendtner was nothing but a stopgap. Over the course of the season he made just 10 appearances, failing to score a single goal.
Bendtner has spent the summer in limbo, waiting for a move to materialise. Arsene Wenger made it publicly clear the forward was free to go, while Bendtner himself went on record in 2011 to make his feelings about the club clear. He told the Daily Mail:
I will never go back to Arsenal. If I can have it my way, I will never play for them again. I will find a new club - but I will not go back to Arsenal, that's for sure.
And yet he’s still there.
Bendtner’s strong sense of self-worth and high salary at Arsenal have proved prohibitive to finalising a move. He seemed set for a deadline-day departure to Crystal Palace or West Ham, but Arsenal opted to keep him after being foiled in a late move for Chelsea’s Demba Ba.
Bendtner spoke out about his disappointment following the breakdown of his move away, as reported by ESPN:
Many things have been said about my where my future lies after many years at Arsenal. The truth is I just want to play football which is when I'm happiest and Arsenal is a fantastic environment for any professional to apply their trade.
I still feel very strongly about Arsenal and following positive talks with the manager, I am looking forward to working hard to regain full fitness and doing my very best to help to the team and the manager fulfil our objectives and ambitions this season.
I've learnt a lot from my loan experiences at Sunderland and Juventus and I want to assure all Arsenal fans that I will give everything I have to contribute to what I believe will be a successful season for the club.
It’s clear that Bendtner and Arsene Wenger have decided to set aside their differences for practical reasons. Bendtner needs to play, and Wenger needs a backup striker for Olivier Giroud.
On paper, Bendtner has many of the attributes required. Despite many of the jibes about his cumbersome syle, he is not a poor player. His record at international level remains impressive and is a testament to his ability: Bendtner has 22 goals from 55 caps.
He is powerful in the air and can be an effective finisher. His time spent playing on the flank improved his close control and hold-up play.
The biggest question marks are over his application and team ethic. The current Arsenal squad is full of selfless players who sacrifice sweat for the good of the club. Conversely, Bendtner has always seemed something of an individualist.
The Dane has been handed Andrey Arshavin’s No. 23 shirt for the 2013/14 season. That is not a good omen: Arshavin was the kind of solitary maverick that Bendtner should avoid trying to emulate as he attempts to rehabilitate his Arsenal career.
Olivier Giroud’s body is unlikely to hold up to the challenge of playing every game. When Giroud requires rest, Bendtner will compete with Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo to replace the Frenchman.
Walcott and Podolski are arguably at their best on the flanks, and Sanogo lacks the required experience to be a threat in the Premier League. If Bendtner can get himself fit and in-form, there is an opportunity for him to seize.
Humility will be key to Bendtner’s recuperation. He’ll have to accept that he will begin the season as a reserve, and he will have to work hard to take the infrequent opportunities that come his way.
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