The Danish pastry or rockin’ Moroccan?

Rather than respond to David Hytner’s recent Guardian column with an angry and incoherent e-comment destined to be lost to the realms of internet space, this is how I will pick my bone. From my more lofty position as an irrelevant and unknown internet blogger, there will be no escaping my wrath.

Whilst the outcome of tonight’s encounter with a seemingly awe-struck Leyton Orient side was always going to be a formality, the bearing it had on future team-selections was an interesting selling-point. As the media prod around for any sign of Szczesny or Koscielny crumbling after Sunday’s trauma, could Almunia edge closer to regaining the gloves, or Squillaci the Centre-Half berth? Can Diaby still have a role to play in this tantalsing season? And what could be said for the young trialists, Miquel and Henderson? Above all however was the audition played out between Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner, both aiming to step into the lethal boots of glass-bones, or as his friends call him, Robin Van Persie.

As I said only recently, it is foolish to be lulled into any sense of security, be it false or real, on the back of this man finding a purple patch. His draw to the treatment room is too strong, and even in the act of scoring a beautiful (I have been told) cup final equaliser, he can aspire to become injured. Knee ligament damage is apparently his latest ailment, keeping him out for at least 3 weeks according to the boss, and presenting a very problematic conundrum.

Vying to replace one of the most prolific strikers in world football, I give you a lumbering, paceless, arrogant slouch, and Marouane Chamakh. A key debate amongst fans this year, though one I cannot say is at all riveting, is the enduring question of who is the better of the two. Now, it seems, the decision will at last be made. Starting with Sunderland on Saturday, Arsenal may be forced to contest a minimum of 5 fixtures without one of our most prized assets, including visits to the Nou Camp and Old Trafford. Instead, Bendtner or Chamakh will be called upon to lead an optimistic challenge for the treble. Although Bendtner’s early withdrawal from last night’s proceedings suggest he will get the nod, I’d encourage Arsene to rethink his choice.

If tonight was the audition, then it was no coincidence the audience seemed less than enthralled. A hat-rick has never before been greeted with such muted recognition. Because for each goal Bendtner neatly tucked away, there were far more wayward touches and half-hearted sprints. What is so agonizingly frustrating about Bendtner’s hat-rick is that it will most likely earn him the opportunity to start in the central role against both Sunderland and Barcelona. A role he is not at all worthy of. Yes he scored a hat-rick this evening, yet the opposition, with respect, would have been given a game by the Under 15’s. More importantly, he as ever lacked any energy or finesse and played with far too much unfounded arrogance. The latter was epitomized in a cringe-worthy moment when he cupped his ear to the Orient fans after scoring his second.

One of the many admirable features of Van Persie’s game is his excellent link up play. With Bendtner playing in the central striking position, this is lost. His touch is not good enough and defenders find it very easy to play against him. As against Braga away, and more recently at home to Stoke, the midfield players so often relied on to create danger were anonymous. Walcott, Nasri, Arshavin and Cesc thrive on being able to pick the ball up from the central striker in order to create opportunities when the defense are on the back-foot. With Bendtner charged with providing them with this luxury, Arsenal lose a key dimension to their attacking play as his disinterested and plodding work helps slow down or lose possession.

Whilst Bendtner tends to miscontrol a ball aimed his way, or over-elaborate before wasting an opportunity, Chamakh is exemplary in such a scenario. He is the ideal target man. Knock it up to him, be it feet, chest or head-high, and the ball will stick like glue. Whilst he may not be the most aggressive centre forward, he can certainly hold his own. Far more willing to challenge aerially than the more flowery Bendtner, Chamakh was key to our good early season form, with goals as well as affective link up play. 11 of them to be precise, a not too shabby record from the first 4 or so months of the season. Similarly, whilst Bendtner mopes around the pitch without ever breaking sweat, Chamakh his intent on harrying and hassling oppositions. An important trait.

In his column, Hytner suggests Bendtner’s admirable versatility unfairly hinders his claim for the central-striking role as he is forced to play on the right or behind Chamakh. Paradoxically, it is instead more of an unattainable ambition of Wenger’s and highlights the Dane’s inappropriateness in that role. Bendtner is never going to be a suitable winger for Arsenal, again down to his poor control of a football. Look down the history of Arsenal wingers. Can you see Bendtner slotting in nicely amongst a procession of Pires’, Ljungbergs, Overmars’ and Rixs- I think not. For me he has no place in a title-challenging side, and should be the prime candidate to help raise Arsenal’s net profit with a move elsewhere in the summer. However, whilst many lambast him endlessly, an equal amount are prone to forgetting the hours of Bendtner induced pain, hypothesizing that his presence may one day be vital. It won’t be. It will be as disappointing, clumsy and lackadaisical as ever. He may grab an early goal at the Nou Camp, as he did last year, but his overall contribution won’t be nearly as effective as what Chamakh could offer. Without Van Persie it is necessary to look for alternative ways of unlocking Barcelona, not to turn to a half-adequate understudy in the hope he may have suddenly become as good as he thinks he is. Choose wisely Arsene, lest we concede possession, and then the game.


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