I would have laughed off any suggestion two months ago that Mathieu Flamini and Nicklas Bendtner would play for Arsenal again. However, somehow a chain of events has meant returns to the Arsenal fold. Flamini has so far been a success, but no-one really expected much from Bendtner. Him and his new beard/long hair combo were on show at the Hawthorns on Wednesday against West Bromwich Albion in the Capital One Cup, and the results were encouraging.
For a player that has barely played in the last year, and judging by an Instagram picture a few weeks ago looked horribly out of shape, Bendtner lasted the full 120 minutes and battled well with little service as the lone striker. There were obvious signs of rustiness when he was tackled when bearing down on goal in extra time, but that was to be expected of any player who has been out of action for so long.
Bendtner won plenty of headers, grabbed a good assist for Thomas Eisfeld’s well taken goal and calmly took the first Arsenal penalty in the shoot-out.
What was also striking about Bendtner’s appearance was the reaction of the travelling Arsenal fans towards him. It was probably best for Bendtner to make his comeback away from the Emirates Stadium, because whilst the atmosphere around the club has been much improved in recent weeks, the away support for the Arsenal is loud, proud and positive. There were five and a half thousand in the away end of the Hawthorns, and they were singing ‘Super Nicklas Bendtner’ in a great show of positive reinforcement towards the Dane.
Sometimes the way fans chant towards players can be dismissed as irrelevant, however with this current Arsenal team, there are numerous examples of where positive support has helped improve a player’s game. Olivier Giroud was frustrating at times last season, but his song amongst the supporters became popular and the Frenchman has thrived knowing he’s got the trust of the fans. He’s willing to make the extra effort to chase a pass, fight for a header and close down defenders.
Bendtner is likely to give more for the club when he feels supported. He has got a big ego, but with some love from supporters, that can be controlled. Bendtner realistically isn’t a long term option for the Gunners, but Arsenal undoubtedly need some back-up to Giroud, so Bendtner showing some promise at being able to provide that should be welcomed.
The other great recent example of a player improving with some support from the fans was influential in Arsenal’s third round win at West Brom. Per Mertesacker was one of two players to retain their place in the team following the win against Stoke, and he was superb. Despite looking increasingly knackered as the game went through extra time, his reading of the game, positioning, clearances and organisation at the back was invaluable.
After being alerted to the fact that his song from supporters was used as a term of endearment, the big f****** German has only improved and gained a real bond with supporters. He understands what it means to play for the Arsenal.
Sometimes though, you don’t need a player to be told by fans what the shirt means. Along with Mertesacker, the stand-out performer at West Brom was Carl Jenkinson. It’s clichéd to say he would run through walls for Arsenal Football Club, but it really is true. With everyone one else struggling to move at the end of extra time, Jenkinson someone found a sprint to get back in position as the hosts attacked.
The number of changes Arsenal made meant it wasn’t a surprise that the performance lacked some fluidity at times, but none of the players could be accused of not giving everything for the team. Especially for the youngsters trying to make an impression, as much as having good talent and technique, the fans want to see them ready to work hard for the team. They all did that on Wednesday.
Arsenal weren’t great against West Brom, but the first team’s good run is spreading a good vibe throughout the club. They are finding ways to win matches, even with injuries and changes to the team. With support continuing from the fans, even apparent outcasts like Bendtner can get caught in the team spirit that is currently obvious at the Arsenal.
Just on a minor point, I read before the match that Steve Bruce thought the early rounds of the League Cup were boring and fans wouldn’t like to be there. Arsene Wenger does use the tournament to blood younger players, but the fans and players efforts on Wednesday showed they care about this tournament. If the same XI plays Chelsea in the next round, Arsenal will have to do something extraordinary to get through, but the good feeling about the club means fans shouldn’t rule it out from happening.