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Teenage striker Nicklas Bendtner is relishing the prospect of leading Arsenal FC's attack in their final UEFA Champions League Group H game against FC Steaua Bucureşti on Wednesday, hoping to catch the eye of manager Arsène Wenger.
First-team opportunities have been a rarity for Bendtner since he joined from FC København in 2004, with the Danish international being loaned to Birmingham City FC last term and then requiring considerable patience following his summer return to London. Indeed, the 19-year-old played more regularly for his country than for his club in the early stages of this season, before two mature displays in the English League Cup and a series of powerful substitute cameos forced him into Wenger's plans.
Having marked his European debut by scoring Arsenal's record-equalling seventh goal against SK Slavia Praha on Matchday 3, the forward was rewarded with starting berths away to both Slavia and Sevilla FC. Bendtner could now feature in a fourth successive UEFA Champions League tie on Wednesday, with Robin van Persie only just returning to training after a knee injury and Emmanuel Adebayor likely to be rested. "I certainly hope I will start," he said. "Every time I get a chance, I want to show people what I can do. It's not easy because we have such a great strike force at Arsenal, and we've been playing really good football so the team has been settled. But when a chance comes along, it's important for me to take it."
While Wenger's charges are already assured of reaching the last 16, the visit of Steaua represents an opportunity for them to clinch top spot, should Group H leaders Sevilla slip up in Prague. For Bendtner, winning would also help erase the memory of Sunday's 2-1 defeat by Middlesbrough FC, the Gunners' first in the Premier League for 22 matches. "This game is a good opportunity for us to bounce back," said Bendtner, a second-half substitute at the Riverside Stadium. "We're disappointed but when you play in such a tough league, losing is always going to happen. We need to put that behind us and show everyone what we're all about."
Most Arsenal fans are only now beginning to learn what Bendtner is all about. The imposing Dane scored 22 goals in 27 reserve-team outings before moving to Birmingham, where his ability to lead the line and weigh in with important strikes – eleven in the Championship – helped Steve Bruce's men clinch promotion to the top flight. "The season I spent at Birmingham was fantastic," he enthused. "I just wanted to help Birmingham win games and get promoted, as well as trying to improve as a player. I think I achieved that." Recent displays suggest Bendtner's career is on an upward curve, and another scoring show on Wednesday would give Wenger even more food for thought.
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