All being well, Nicklas Bendtner should make his first Arsenal appearance for two years at West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday night, and he cannot say Arsène Wenger is not right behind him. "Nicklas can be an unstoppable striker," the Arsenal manager said. "I personally believe in his qualities, and now he has the chance to convince everybody else. Fans forgive you everything as long as you produce the performances on the football pitch."
The last part of that highly contentious statement happens to be true.
Generally speaking, fans will forgive a lot if a player is still capable of match-winning performances on the pitch. Whether it is a maxim that can be applied to the Denmark striker, however, is much more debatable. Most of Bendtner's most famous performances – crashing his Aston Martin after changing his shirt number for good luck, being suspended by the Danish FA after an arrest for drink-driving, stumbling out of a night club with his jeans undone – have been away from the pitch. And even on the pitch, he is at least as famous for fighting with Emmanuel Adebayor or lowering his shorts to reveal sponsored underpants as he is for scoring goals.
In terms of his overall career, Bendtner is in his mid-20s now and has been associated with Arsenal for almost 10 years, the high-maintenance Dane appears the most stoppable of strikers in that here always seems to be something extra-curricular going on that threatens to bring his progress to a halt. There is no doubt he can score goals, his return of 22 in 55 games for Denmark is particularly eye-catching, he also reached double figures on loan to Birmingham in 2006-07 and he still happens to be the second highest Arsenal goalscorer on the club's books at present. But he has never been Mr Reliable in any sense of the word and, despite Wenger's public confidence, he has never come close to fulfilling his early promise.
That's why he has spent his past two seasons out on loan. That's why he is getting a run-out with the stiffs in the Capital One Cup. Had Juventus shown even the slightest interest in making last season's loan deal permanent he would have remained in Italy. Instead, after failing to score in 10 appearances, he was returned to store, to a parent club who had already decided he was not the future and made alternative striking arrangements.
Cruelly, especially for a player who offered to reimburse Arsenal fans who had bought shirts bearing his old number because it meant a lot to see spectators express their support in that way, it has been reported that take-up for Juventus shirts with his name on the back was somewhere between sluggish and nonexistent.
Like George Best, Bendtner has form with beauty queens. There the similarity ends, however. Bendtner reportedly poured a drink over a former Miss Fitness in Denmark last summer and, for at least a couple of reasons, you would not have caught Best doing that. In his recidivism, his apparent inability to put his misadventures behind him and concentrate on his core activity of football, Bendtner appears to have more in common with the pre-retirement Paul Gascoigne. There is not the same well of sympathy, though, because there is not the same amount of footballing talent to go with the pranks and petty misdemeanours. Quite apart from being bona fide football legends by virtue of their genius, both Best and Gascoigne were funny off the pitch, amusing to be around. They did not always make the wisest decisions and both eventually became tiresome, but initially at least Best could always tell a good tale against himself and even now, struggling to deal with chronic alcoholism, Gazza can still raise a smile through the sheer warmth of his personality and his endearing daftness.
Bendtner is only a legend in his own imagination and is in danger of seeing a somewhat less stellar football career sink without trace. Most people are surprised to discover he has been at Arsenal for nine years, mostly because he has been at three other clubs for lengthy periods since making his debut in a League Cup match in 2005. His career is not exactly at a crossroads, it could more accurately be described as having left the main highway and parked up in a quiet side street. Yet, with the striker now 25, Wenger could be right.
Bendtner still has a chance to harness his undoubted ability and his best days could yet be ahead. It seems unlikely but you never know. Wenger feels, and Bendtner must know, that this is last-chance-saloon time. Not just in terms of his club but his career. His Arsenal contract expires in May and, unless he can make a hugely favourable impression in the limited opportunities he will be granted this season, it will not be renewed.
But for Arsenal rather naively pursuing Demba Ba late in the transfer window and having to change plans on the final day when it became clear José Mourinho would not let him go, Bendtner could have found himself on loan to Crystal Palace by now. He was apparently willing to make the move, which says a lot about a player who once said he would only leave Arsenal for a club with stronger Champions League credentials. And Palace only wanted him on loan. They were reluctant to take the player on a permanent transfer, and if Bendtner is out of contract at the end of this season he could have to lower his sights considerably to fix himself up with a new club.
If Bendtner takes his chances, beginning on Wednesday night, Wenger says, he could still regain his place back over Olivier Giroud. Bendtner taking his chances, though, is one of the biggest ifs in football.