Nicklas Bendtner’s stock among Arsenal fans is as high as it’s been for several years. However, it may be too late for him to truly win the Gunners fans over.
This summer, the prospect of seeing Nicklas Bendtner in an Arsenal shirt again seemed improbable at best.
The Dane had spent each of the last two seasons out on loan. He had a moderately successful spell at Sunderland, but typically decided to set his sights higher for the 2012/13 campaign.
Bendtner did well to secure a move to Italian champions Juventus, but his unveiling was arguably the high point of a disastrous time in Italy. Injury and competition for places restricted him to a handful of appearances. Bendtner threatened to become football's forgotten man.
In the summer he returned to Arsenal for pre-season training, but it seemed like a mere temporary measure. He was linked with a string of moves across the continent, and it seemed like a matter of time until Bendtner departed on a permanent basis.
However, the weeks rolled by and the expected transfer failed to materialise.
At the same time, Arsenal were taking steps to fill Bendtner's space in the squad. Arsenal began the summer chasing a marquee striker, primarily via a very public and somewhat aggressive pursuit of Luis Suarez.
A combination of Liverpool’s intransigence and Olivier Giroud’s good form saw Arsenal abandon their chase for a big-name striker. However, Arsenal still needed a back-up for Giroud.
Deadline Day seemed set for a merry-go-round of furious activity in the Gunners’ forward department. Bendtner had finally reconciled himself to joining fellow Arsenal outcast Marouane Chamakh at Crystal Palace, while Arsene Wenger attempted to tie up a loan deal for Chelsea’s Demba Ba.
However, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho threw a spanner into the works. When he heard of Arsenal’s deal to acquire Mesut Ozil, he pulled the plug on the Ba deal. Mourinho knew that signing Ozil would catapult Arsenal into title contention, and strengthening the Gunners by allowing them to borrow Ba was no longer an option.
A frustrated Wenger was forced, in turn, to cancel Bendtner’s move to Palace.
Bendtner and Arsenal were stuck with each other. However, to their credit, both parties have attempted to make the best of things.
For his part, Bendtner immediately embarked on a rigorous training regime to ensure he returned to something approaching match fitness. He also released a statement, insisting he would give his all for the Gunners despite his latent intention to leave:
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 Football Club 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 the team and the Manager fulfil our objectives and ambitions this season.
Arsene Wenger also showed a willingness to forgive and forget. Bendtner has made eight appearances this season, including three starts. Wenger has held no grudge with the man who once insisted he would never play for The Gunners again.
The truth is that Wenger has little choice. This is a marriage of convenience.
Bendtner experienced the high point in his season when he nodded home an early goal to give Arsenal the lead in their Premier League match with Hull. However, the truth is that he was only playing because Olivier Giroud was in desperate need of a break.
There may be more opportunities on the immediate horizon for Bendtner.
Arsenal’s winter schedule is as treacherous as it is relentless. The Gunners face two title rivals in succession, playing Manchester City then Chelsea in consecutive weeks. The Chelsea match is part of an exhausting schedule of three matches inside seven days. The match away to West Ham on December 26th could be another chance for the Dane to show what he can do.
However, in reality he is playing to impress potential suitors rather than his current boss. Bendtner’s Arsenal deal expires in the summer of 2014, and in the right circumstances he could even be allowed to leave before then.
Bendtner’s revival could come to a swift halt in January, for two reasons.
Firstly, Arsenal will be free to enter the transfer market for the striker they desperately need. Such a move would push Bendtner down the pecking order and out of regular contention.
Can Nicklas Bendtner win Arsenal fans over?
Furthermore, Lukas Podolski will hopefully be back to full fitness by then. The German international has already begun training with the Arsenal first team, and could even make the substitutes bench for this weekend’s clash with Manchester City. With Arsenal well stocked on the flanks, he seems the man most likely to be Giroud’s understudy between now and May.
Bendtner’s time at Arsenal is running out. Even if he stays beyond the mid-season transfer window, his opportunities will become increasingly limited. It would take yet more bad luck with injury for him to get a look-in.
There is one thing that could redeem Bendtner: an iconic goal. If he comes off the bench to score a crucial goal in the title race, he could be immortalised as a cult figure, much like Federico Macheda at Manchester United.
Without that, he’ll merely be remembered as a frustrating player who squandered his talent.