Three years ago, Arsene Wenger welcomed Nicklas Bendtner back from a loan spell at Birmingham and predicted a bright future for the big striker. "I would love to be 19 years-old and have his quality," said the Arsenal manager. "For me he has everything in his locker that needs to be in there." Strong, quick and resourceful, Bendtner had similar characteristics to the club's leading frontman Emmanuel Adebayor. It was why Wenger did not dwell on the sale of Adebayor to Manchester City last summer. Nor did the Frenchman fret when he was criticised for not signing a striker in the transfer window last month.
His reluctance was largely factored by Bendtner's impending return from a groin injury and the belief that, now 22, this was the time for the Dane to fulfil his manager's great expectations. Tonight at the Estadio do Dragao, he will get the chance to take centre stage and prove he deserves more than the bit-part substitute role that has often frustrated him, and to appease the supporters who have yet to be convinced.
With Andriy Arshavin and Robin van Persie on the sidelines through injury and Eduardo just back after his own fitness problems, the focus will be on Bendtner to lead the line against Porto in the first leg of their last 16 tie. His last European appearance in September saw him score in a 3-2 victory at Standard Liege and he said: "We have different types of strikers who can do different things, and I think the team has missed a type like me."
Bendtner's ability to hold the ball was evident in their vital 1-0 Premier League win against Liverpool. He unsettles defenders and that direct approach will give his side greater options against Porto, the champions in 2004. The hosts will also have their own hulking figure back to help them. Givanildo Vieira de Souza, known more commonly as the Hulk, is still serving a six-month domestic suspension following an attack on two stewards at the end of a defeat to Benfica.
But despite the lack of regular competitive action, he has been unleashed in the Champions League and three goals in six games highlight his threat. Wenger said: "Hulk is a powerful boy. He has tremendous pace and power so we will want to keep him quiet. A clean sheet will do, but we are team who will not hide. We want to play." Defensively, Wenger will be without William Gallas who has a back problem, along with Alex Song and keeper Manuel Almunia. It means Sol Campbell will partner Thomas Vermaelen for a first Champions League appearance since the final in 2006 when he scored in the 2-1 defeat to Barcelona.
That might encourage Porto, but their coach, Jesualdo Ferreira, is prepared for a difficult encounter. Beaten by Manchester United and Chelsea at home in their last two contests against English teams, he is wary. "Arsenal are the English team that can trouble us most. When they are on form, they play a game that is hard to overcome," said Ferreira. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Porto v Arsenal, 11.45pm, Aljazeera Sport+3