Wenger’s press conference finally dropped this morning and you know, it’s like waiting for a baby to be born some times. I mean, this presser happened last night and for some reason it took 12 hours to post it. I suspect that the “real” press needed a chance to spin… I mean write their stories.
Anyway, Nicklas Bendtner was on the podium with Arsene yesterday and as usual when there’s a player at a presser with the boss it was a love in. Wenger was asked pretty much straight away about Bendtner and his fitness and why we didn’t buy a striker and answered in typical fashion that now was the time for Nicklas to pay Arsene back.
You wouldn’t expect anything less from Arsene, he’s almost always publicly supportive of the players irregardless their crimes, but I did get a chuckle out of the fact that Arsene compared Nicklas to Thierry Henry.
He is the best age now for a striker, at 22 you have to start to play at the top level but I would remind you that Thierry Henry arrived here at the age of 23.
On first glance it’s about as poppycock a statement as a manager could make. I mean, come on! I Henry’s first season at Arsenal he scored 26 goals, Bendtner scored 14 for us last season and 26 goals seems like a long way off. That said, there is something that happens to a striker around the age of 23-24 years old and the boss is right to point out that Nicklas should get better over the next year or two. So, the comparison may be wrong, I’ll eat my hat if Bendtner goes on to become Arsenal’s best ever scorer, but the point the boss is making (that the best of a player comes out in their 23-24th years) is spot on.
Wayne Rooney is proof of this concept, last year he had just 12 goals in 30 League games and this year he’s got 21 goals in 25 League games. Sure, part of that is down to the fact that Ronaldo and Tevez cleared out and Looney is getting more games as the sole striker. But Rooney’s never lit up the score sheet before in the way that he has this year and if he had been ready to take over the lone striker role don’t you think Fergie would have played him there?
So, while I disagree with the boss’ comparison, I agree that the best is yet to come from Bendtner and that for today’s match, he will be absolutely crucial. Funny enough, the press mentioned both his goal against Standard in the Champions League and the goal he scored against Portugal for Denmark in the World Cup qualifier’s this year.
The Standard Liege goal is important because he linked up with Diaby (who powers through their midfield) and sweeps in a goal right before half time, which gave the Arsenal the belief that they could mount a comeback after being down 2-0. It’s a good goal and you can see it here:
But the goal against Portugal is what we all would like to see more of from Bendtner. He just shucks aside his marker, controls the ball nicely, and hammers home the half-volley. It’s one of the best goals of Bendtner’s short career so far and if he can do more of this tonight we will most certainly be in pole position for the return leg in March.
Of course, Bendtner’s not the only player who is playing for Arsenal today and like I’ve said many times before it’s going to take a team defensive effort to really shine in this match.
At the back, Sol should help provide some defensive organization and grit and with a young keeper like Fabianski in the sticks that could prove crucial. Between him and Thomas Vermaelen we should have the strength and heading ability to deal with any set plays.
It’s up front and in the midfield, though, where Arsenal’s defense will be tested. Bendtner will run around harassing people no doubt, but it’s likely starters Nasri and Rosicky that will need to be nipping in and providing cover for Arsenal’s fullback. There have been times this season where Arsenal have been exposed because the wing forwards (what the hell are the two at the top of a 4-3-3?) were caught napping when the wing-backs got forward. Let’s hope they are up for the game tonight.
In the middle of the park, it’ll be interesting to see what the partnership of Diaby and Denilson brings to the table in terms of dealing with Falcao and possibly Hulk (there was some unintelligible question about whether Hulk would play tonight). I think they have their work cut out for them and especially Denilson. Frankly, I don’t care if he has a single foray across the half way line, as long as he finds a way to mark Hulk’s big mouth out of the game, I’ll be happy.
Happy? I’d be ecstatic! I love it when big mouths like Hulk talk a bunch of shite before a match and get shut down.
It’s going to be a real tough match today, Porto are really looking forward to progressing in the Champions League and their fans will be up for today’s game. I don’t really see a 0-0 draw from this game, Arsenal’s playing style isn’t set up for that type of game (love it or hate it), but rather something like a 2-2 draw. That would set us up nicely for the return trip, where Porto’s torrid away form should just about see us through.
The match is on Fox Soccer Channel here in the States and like I said yesterday, I’m going to be experimenting with a podcast of the match. So, if you’re in town come on down to Doyle’s and you might make the podcast.
If you’re funny.
Oh hell, I forgot to mention that in yesterday’s column there was a lot of speculation about why Almunia was being rested and today we found out why: Almunia has been playing with pain in his finger for several weeks and he was getting injections in his finger in order to play through the pain.
Word is that he re-injured the finger in training on Monday and they finally said enough is enough and are giving him some time off, including this weekend’s match against notorious loud mouth Darren Bent.
I don’t know how much this will raise people’s opinion of Almunia but it certainly makes me think twice. A few weeks ago it was also revealed that Almunia is considered by many to be the hardest worker on Arsenal’s training ground.
I don’t remember ever questioning his commitment but if I did, I apologize to the player and want to go on record saying that I don’t question his commitment to the club.
Now, whether he’s just not good enough for the team is an entirely different debate. Who knows, maybe Arsene will find a way to point out that keepers at age 32 are not quite in their prime.