It was a grim encounter between Arsenal and Bolton on Saturday afternoon at a freezing cold Ashburton Grove and the action on the pitch provided little to warm the hearts of the crowd. The visitors seemed intent on playing for a draw and lined up ten players behind the ball from the outset. Though the Gunners held the vast majority of possession, without the guile of Cesc Fabregas in midfield, they could not find a way through until the 84th minute when Robin Van Persie finally managed to slip behind the Bolton defence to deliver a delightful cross that was slammed into the net by Nicklas Bendtner. It was the only real moment of inspiration in the whole match and it delivered all three points and much relief to the Arsenal supporters.
The goal would have also come as a great relief to Bendtner himself. The young Dane has had a difficult second season even though his scoring record so far suggests he is well on-track to better his solid efforts of last term. Sadly though, for some reason, he has become a target for some sections of the crowd and his every mistake is greeted with howls of derision and complaints to the manager. It is true that he has struggled to show his best form so far this season but why he should be singled out for rough treatment is a mystery, particularly as there are plenty of other players in the squad who have been well below par since August and who are arguably more deserving of criticism.
What needs to be remembered is that Bendtner is a young player. He is still learning and adapting to top-level football and is a way off being the finished article. It is also debatable that he has yet to be deployed in what some consider to be his best position, which is more as "a provider" in the Denis Bergkamp mould. He has shown on numerous occasions a fine eye for chiselling out tight defence-opening passes and he has the ability weigh in with a few goals too. It is unfortunate that he is playing in squad that is currently struggling to recreate some of the fantastic football that was produced last season and the whole team is under pressure at the moment, but that still doesn't explain why divisive opinions about him amongst some fans have emerged - and why other players are cut far more slack and let off the hook more easily when they are not at their best.
Throughout football history there have always been players that, rightly or wrongly, have been victims of adverse crowd opinion, no matter what they do. Hopefully, that will not be Bendtner's fate because he is a talented player of whom the best is yet to be seen. He does have a certain amount of control over his destiny though. Players have won over crowds by toughing out the criticism, buckling down to some very hard work and showing that they are prepared to die for the shirt. Football supporters can be very forgiving in that respect. Often it is not the most talented players that they hold dearest to their hearts, it is the players who will give the last drop of blood for the cause.
Bendtner certainly did himself a few favours by clinching such a vital winning goal on Saturday but if he is to cement his position in the squad - and in the eyes of the fans - he has to build on that. Every player can go through a bad patch but it is how they deal with that and emerge from it that counts. The young Dane used to be branded as "arrogant" by some before he made his break into the first-team scene last year. Others, looking more favourably on him, would have called it "self-belief". There seems to be little evidence of any arrogance in his demeanour at the moment but he now needs to be drawing on all his self-belief and putting in some hard work to really make his mark this season.
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