Bendtner keeps Arsenal top, but striker crisis still looms
Danish forward the unlikely hero as Gunners beat Cardiff to make it three wins over Christmas
Arsenal 2 Cardiff City 0. Nicklas Bendtner was the unlikely hero as Arsenal overcame a stubborn Cardiff side with two goals in the final five minutes to cap an excellnet Christmas campaign. The victory keeps the Gunners top of the table, one point above Manchester City whose recent run of fine form continued with a 3-2 win away at Swansea.
Arsenal were unable to break down a well-organised Cardiff side for most of a tense encounter at the Emirates, a match played in atrocious conditions that dampened the style as well as the spirits.
Despite dominating possession the Gunners had to wait until 88 minutes to take the lead with substitute Bendtner smashing the ball past David Marshall after the Cardiff keeper had blocked Bacary Sagna's initial header. Theo Walcott then doubled Arsenal's advantage, running onto Jack Wilshere's deft pass to chip Marshall for what could turn out to be a crucial three points.
Prior to Bendtner's strike Arsenal had looked short on ideas, deprived of the injured Olivier Giroud and also missing Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey. Instead it was Cardiff, watched from the stand by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, expected to be unveiled this week as the Bluebird's new boss, who caught the eye with their dogged resistance.
It was the sort of match that in recent seasons Arsenal would have struggled to win, but their new found confidence this season had its reward with the two late goals. "We needed to be patient against a very good Cardiff side," admitted a relieved Arsene Wenger. "I think we were mature, intelligent and resilient. Maybe it is a consequence of the number of games we have played. We know we have to play 10 home games and we want to make this place a fortress and take the points no matter what the others do."
Admitting that the win puts his side in "a very strong position", Wenger nonetheless knows he might have to strengthen his squad in this month's transfer window. Bendtner's rare outing came at the expense of the injured Giroud, but now the Danish striker faces a spell on the sidelines after injuring his ankle in the act of scoring the all-important goal.
"Unfortunately he got injured today and it looks like it is not a question of days, but weeks, with a sprained ankle," explained Wenger. "I am very sad for us, but for him as well... he is a player who has gone through some difficult periods so I just want to give him great credit."
Though Giroud is set to sit out this Saturday's FA Cup third round clash with Spurs, the French striker is expected to be fit for Arsenal's next league game against Aston Villa on Monday week. "I don't know," said Wenger, when it was suggested he would need to sign another striker this month. "It doesn't mean we go straight from Nicklas's ankle straight to the transfer market. It means that we have Giroud and Bendtner out."
In reality, however, Wenger will know that without an out-and-out centre forward Arsenal will struggle to break down sides like Cardiff. That was obvious on Wednesday before Bendtner arrived on the scene to silence his critics.