Bendtner keeps Arsenal top but Wenger says Man U still in race
Rare goal from out-of-favour Dane helps Gunners to victory as they open a 12 point gap over champions
Arsenal 2 Hull City 0. Christmas came early for Nicklas Bendtner at the Emirates on Wednesday night as the Arsenal striker scored his first goal for the club since March 2011. The Dane was presented with a gift of a cross from Carl Jenkinson just two minutes into the game against Hull, and not even he could miss from the edge of the six-yard box. His powerful header gave Allan McGregor no chance in the visitors’ goal and almost stunned the Emirates into silence. A goal from Bentdner, on his first start for Arsenal in nearly three years? Whatever next.
Of late the 25-year-old Bendtner has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, but no one could fault his commitment against Hull and he showed glimpses of class in what was a dominant Arsenal display. "We know that when he has the mind of the game, he has the qualities," said Arsene Wenger when asked about Bendtner's performance. "I believe tonight he had a good game."
Wenger admitted he had gambled on Bendtner, a player who has spent most of the last two years on loan to Sunderland and Juventus. Nonetheless with Arsenal in the middle of a hectic period (in the next ten days they play Everton, Napoli and Manchester City), Wenger felt obliged to rest Olivier Giroud and recall Bentdner. "His last performance was not convincing against Chelsea [in the League Cup], but he has worked hard in training and deserved a chance," Wenger told reporters.
Well as Bendtner played, however, he was up against a Hull side that was game but not good enough to give Arsenal a serious test. Tougher challenges await Bendtner, a man who in the past has been found wanting when the heat rises, and Wenger batted away questions about the player's future. "At the moment we are not as far as that," he replied when asked if would sell Bendtner next month. "He has the stature, he has good technical quality, he has quite good pace. Look, we had him as a boy of 15 or 16 and I made him sign a long contract twice so that means I always believed in his qualities."
The ease with which Bendtner scored his early goal suggested the Gunners would run up a rugby score but McGregor made a couple of smart saves in the first-half to deny Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil. But the German international doubled Arsenal's advantage two minutes into the second-half, running onto Ramsey's clever pass and slotting the ball into the Hull net. Thereafter the game petered out as a contest with Arsenal turning one eye towards Sunday's visit of Everton.
The Toffees will come south buoyed by their 1-0 victory over Manchester United, their first league victory over Old Trafford since 1992. That moves them into fifth place on 27 points, seven adrift of Arsenal who maintain their four-point advantage over their nearest rivals. As for United, they languish in ninth spot, 12 points behind Arsenal and seemingly out of the title race. Wenger disagrees. "No... it's still early. It is a surprising defeat [to Everton] but it is still early."
Wenger refused to comment on United's travails this season under new manager David Moyes, preferring instead to focus on his team. "We have just to keep winning to have a chance, and not worry too much about the others." ·