Friday, 3 January 2014

Arsenal 2-0 Cardiff: Bendtner's heroics mask the need for a support striker

A huge sigh of relief echoed around the Emirates Stadium as incredibly late goals from Bendtner and Walcott sealed a really important 2-0 win for us. While at the beginning I thought that this match would be nothing more than a walkover for us, in the end I was just more than happy with the three points. However, I'm not sure that I'd head into the upcoming North London Derby with as much confidence now, because I witnessed some glaring flaws in the striker position which really need to be addressed in January.

From this game, it was evident that the days have vanished where we played through a mobile, clinical finisher as a lone striker. As Gunnerblog pointed out, it's almost as if we've forgotten the fluid link up play we executed with van Persie, Eduardo or even Thierry Henry at the helm. Yes, Podolski had a poor game, but it's not entirely his fault. We've gotten so used to having Giroud at the other end of the pitch that we lobbed balls at Lukas, expecting him to hold it nicely and lay it off to the likes of Wilshere, something the German is unable to do. It comes as no surprise that Bendtner had a much better game than Podolski, because he is the only other person who can match Giroud's traits.

I am of the opinion that if we can adapt to our previous style of play - benefiting from a Podolski-esque striker - then we shall have lesser trouble scoring goals. However, adaptation takes time, and that is not on our side, even though we're merely midway through the season. Hence, I feel that the signing of Alvaro Morata will not benefit us, and that we could profit more from a player like Christian Benteke or Demba Ba.

Even so I must say, Bendtner is doing a very good job of filling in at the moment. If it wasn't for his instinct, we wouldn't be on top of the league at he moment, that's a fact. While I still think that he isn't Arsenal quality and has to go, I can't help but feel that he's found the perfect way to say goodbye to us, if he is to leave this month.

Arsene said of him:

"I told him already today that he is back to the level I want him to be at, and if he continues to develop like that he will come back into the team. Unfortunately he got injured today and it looks like it is not a question of days, but weeks, with a sprained ankle. I am very sad for us, but for him as well. It is January 1 so we cannot stop him [talking to clubs abroad] but he says he wants to stay here. If he is focused on staying with us and his job, he is a great striker."

Apparently he does want to stay, but I suspect if the manager gets an offer he'll let him go. While his recent attitude and performances have taken a surprising turn for the better, I think we all know that his time is already up at the club. He never managed to break into break into the starting XI - during his huge 9 year stay - and probably never will, looking at Giroud's current form.

While I'm not ashamed, I'm certainly surprised to admit that Bendtner's departure would be a bitter moment for me. Earlier, I merely classified him in the category of deadwoods that refused to leave, a mammoth list of Almunia, Eboue, Denilson, Diaby, Park, Arshavin, Squillaci, Chamakh and many more. Moreover, his infuriating ego and delusional mind left me a bit angrier with him in particular than with the other worthless players.

However, after witnessing his newfound determination and workrate, I don't know. I mean, I know that in the long run, a player like Bendtner has to be replaced with a more reliable one, but that's not to say that I won't miss his personality, which seems more likeable than irritating now. Even though I do want him to leave, I shall never forget THAT winner against Spurs, the header against Wolves to maintain our title bid, the curling strike against Ipswich to propel us into the Carling Cup Final and now, the volley at the Emirates to keep us on top of the pile.

However, we need to live in a realistic world, and Bendtner cannot provide good backup for Giroud in that world. News that Bendtner suffered a sprained ankle and is set to be out for weeks can actually be good news in disguise. With Giroud injured, Bendtner injured, Sanogo always injured and Podolski not working out up front, we only have 3 choices to proceed with:

1. Give Podolski another chance as the tailsman until Giroud and Bendtner return.

2. Field Park Chu Young and continue playing Podolski on the wings.

3. Buy a decent backup striker and look to offload Nicklas.

I'm confident that Wenger will stick with the first option, fielding a makeshift forward until Giroud and Bendtner recover. Do not be fooled with Arsenal's link to Berbatov - while he would be a very good signing and on the cheap for £2m, I'm dubious whether Wenger's interest in him is genuine.

UPDATE: Arsene has rebuffed talks that they ever contacted Berbatov. While this could just be him pulling off a Santi Cazorla again, more worryingly, he said that he isn't active on the transfer market till now. I know that it's early days, but it isn't exactly joyous days thus far, am I right?

You know what they say - believe half of what you see and none of what you hear. It would be wise to adopt this motto in the face of this month, where I'm sure we will be falsely linked to many more attractive propositions. However, based on the performance against Cardiff (showing a clear lack of cutting edge), I'm sure that we need a striker this month. Bendtner may have vastly improved, but I think we all know that he would struggle to maintain that form over the course of the season, and that his purple patch is too little too late.

Many people would say that Theo Walcott's sealer in stoppage time was icing on the cake. I disagree, especially keeping in tone with this season's league table. While the league table was expected to clear out at least a month ago, it still remains fiercely competitive as ever. With the possibility of slipping from 1st to 3rd in one gameweek and from 3rd to 6th in two more gameweeks, it has to be said that every goal, rather than every 3 points matter as well.

We have an inferior goal difference to Manchester City and Liverpool, and are merely 2 points above Chelsea in the same. One cannot rule out the chance of the title been won on goal difference, as demonstrated 2 seasons ago. An extra goal to seal a victory isn't a bonus at all - it's a valuable point in the goal difference category. Who knows, that just might make the difference for us.

Tomorrow we face Tottenham, a team who have the potential of knocking us out off the FA Cup. If indeed that happens, then the Premier League will resemble our ONLY hope of a trophy, which would pile enormous pressure on the players. Regardless of the scumbag excuses of our opponents that we're dealing with tomorrow, a win is a must.

Be back later with a preview. Have a good one until then.

P.S. From an Arsenal supporter, it WASN'T a penalty. Even if it was, Wilshere's reputation meant that he wasn't going to get it anyway. Not taking anything away from Jack's performance though, he was the man of the match for me.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )