Bendtner believes in his ability to handle pressure of limelight

Arsenal's young striker does not lack confidence to play among illustrious company in the Champions' League knockout stage, writes Steve Tongue
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The Independent Online

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a footballer in lime- green boots – let alone pink – needs to be a good one. "And your point is?" Nicklas Bendtner might have been expected to say. Arsenal's young Dane is on his own admission not short of confidence, but he believes that quality to be fundamental to survival in the rarefied atmosphere in which he operates at the age of barely 21.

So what he did say was: "I'm confident that I'm good, so I can wear what boot I want." And he laughed out loud in acknowledgement of the thin line between self-belief (good) and arrogance (bad). "I know what I can do and the people that know me know that I don't come across as arrogant. I have a lot of self-belief and I don't think you could play at this level without belief [in yourself], that's true for every footballer really."

Playing in Arsenal's four successive goalless draws recently might have dented the confidence of many a striker. Bendtner kept plugging away and had his reward last Tuesday at the less-than-prickly Hawthorns, where he scored twice against West Bromwich Albion and was denied a first hat-trick in this country as another fine effort hit a post.

It was a timely boost to take into a big week for the club that includes an FA Cup tie at home to Burnley today, then the second leg of the Champions' League knockout round against Roma, who lost 1-0 at the Emirates.

Bendtner, who was speaking at the launch of Nike's nationwide Powerleague five-a-side competition (see nikefootball.com), said: "We'd gone into recent games with a lot of belief and confidence we would win, but unfortunately we haven't taken our chances and the goalkeepers made some amazing saves. We've kept tight at the back and kept our belief and at one time it had to pay off.

"I've missed a few chances, and as a striker you have periods like that. The main thing for me now is that I've scored again and want to build on that. You can worry, but you know you have a team behind you and you can be lucky with one deflection; so many things can happen to score a goal. So you keep your belief high and believe in your team-mates and eventually it will come." In an Arsenal squad full of tiros it is easy to forget how young Bendtner is; he was only 16 when he was brought over from Copenhagen five years ago, "a big decision but I wanted to become the best I could be". Arsène Wenger has always remembered it, and been especially paternal in forgiving such youthful indiscretions as a red card against Everton on his full League debut and a spat with Emmanuel Adebayor on the pitch at Tottenham.

Arsenal supporters will always remember a different game against the old enemy, when he was sent on just before a corner was taken and immediately headed it in for his first League goal and the quickest by a substitute since the Premier League began.

In the youth team and reserves before that he had scored 45 goals in 57 starts, and was then toughened up by a season on loan at Birmingham in the Championship. "It developed me well mentally and got me into the Danish national team as well. I had a great time there and getting promoted was a really big deal."

Further education this season has included adapting to a variety of attacking partners, the latest of whom was Andrey Arshavin at West Bromwich. In the first leg of the Roma game he even played, less successfully, wide on the left, with Robin van Persie up front. Now he hopes for a call in any position for the return on Wednesday, as English clubs attempt to supply half of the quarter-finalists for the second year running.

"We made it difficult for Roma because we had the ball for a lot of the game and we were unlucky not to score more. The second leg will be very different, but we have a good base and we know they need to score. The way we've defended, we look strong as a unit, and going forward we're always dangerous."

Being one round behind everyone else has kept Arsenal's FA Cup run low-profile, but they are only two home games from a semi-final at Wembley, which is incentive enough for Bendtner, who has never played at the stadium, old or new. Then there is the League, in which contrasting results have enabled them to cut the gap on fourth-placed Aston Villa back to three points. "We try to focus on ourselves," he said. "But to miss out on the Champions' League [next season] would be a major blow. It cannot happen."

Arsenal have been there, Villa have not. Who knows, it may all come down to a matter of self-belief.

This week's games

TUESDAY

Liverpool (1) v Real Madrid (0)

The luxury of a week's preparation time with no weekend game will appeal to the meticulous Rafa Benitez, who should now know too much for Real.

Juventus (0) v Chelsea (1)

Didier Drogba's re-emergence as a force is the most encouraging aspect of Guus Hiddink's period in charge, and his goal at Stamford Bridge makes Chelsea favourites.

Bayern Munich (5) v Sporting Lisbon (0)

Although they have slipped in the Bundesliga recently, Jürgen Klinsmann's side caused an intake of breath with their result in the first leg. No Sporting chance here.

Panathinaikos (1) v Villarreal (1)

The Greeks will be without captain Giannis Goumas, who picked up another booking in the away leg after Giorgos Karagounis gave them the lead. Should be tight.

WEDNESDAY

Manchester United (0) v Internazionale (0)

Inter's Jose Mourinho got lucky in similar circumstances with Porto, scraping a late 1-1 draw, and that memory will haunt United until they are a couple of goals ahead.

Roma (0) v Arsenal (1)

Arsenal are well placed to progress and should be further ahead after wasting chances, even though Roma must surely show more than they did at the Emirates.

Porto (2) v Atletico Madrid (2)

A huge week for Atletico after last night's derby against Real Madrid, but after making the Champions' League at last they may have blown their chance.

Barcelona (1) v Lyon (1)

Lyon would be doing all other contenders a favour by eliminating the favourites, although Thierry Henry's equaliser in the first leg has made that much less likely.

Odds: 11-4 Barcelona; 7-2 Manchester Utd; 7-1 Chelsea; 8-1 Liverpool; 9-1 Bayern; 12-1 Arsenal, Inter; 22-1 Juventus, Real Madrid; 28-1 Roma; 40-1 Porto, Villarreal; 50-1 Atletico, Lyon, Panathinaikos; 2,500-1 Sporting (Ladbrokes).

Steve Tongue

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