LONDON, March 4, 2011 (AFP) - Nicklas Bendtner is convinced Arsenal's season is back on track after the League Cup final defeat and believes the Gunners are now ready to increase the pressure on Premier League leaders Manchester United.
Arsene Wenger’s side face Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday knowing victory will move them to within one point of United who face Liverpool 24 hours later.
|Arsenal's Gael Clichy (R) celebrates scoring the fifth goal during their FA match against Leyton Orient on March 2, 2011. AFP|
A win would complete a satisfying turnaround for Bendtner and his team-mates who were left devastated at the end of last week by the shock of losing at Wembley to Birmingham City.
The defeat meant Arsenal failed to end their six-year wait for a trophy but it was the manner of the loss -- a shocking mistake gifted Birmingham a last minute winner -- that raised questions about the mental strength of Wenger’s squad.
The players wasted little time in moving on from that disappointment, thrashing League One Leyton Orient 5-0 in the FA Cup fifth round replay three days after their defeat at Wembley.
That victory set up a quarter-final meeting with United at Old Trafford next weekend, but before then, Wenger’s team will be seeking to deliver an early psychological blow against their close rivals by confirming the title race will go to the wire.
Bendtner got a hat-trick in the Orient victory, underlining his claims to deputise for main striker Robin van Persie during the Holland forward's four-week absence with a knee problem.
And the Danish striker is convinced the FA Cup win means the Gunners are looking forward to future success, rather than reflecting on what might have been at Wembley.
"It was just what we needed to bounce back in a positive way and this was the best way we could have done it," said the forward.
"We have to put that behind us now, and learn from it. It is a part of football and you have to move on from that.
"It is done, they (Birmingham) won it - we didn't. We have three other things to focus on now and that is what we will do.
"We have the players and the mentality to create something special. At the end of the day, we know we are going to be rated on one thing, and that is what we are trying to achieve."
Bendtner’s main rival for the striker role is Marouane Chamakh and with the Champions League trip to Barcelona looming three days after the Sunderland clash, Wenger's selection plans remain unclear.
However, Arsenal will again be without Cesc Fabregas -- hopeful of returning in the Nou Camp -- and Theo Walcott.
Arsenal, though, will be catching Sunderland at a good time. While Wenger has injury concerns, they are minor compared to Steve Bruce's problems as he heads for the Emirates without nine of his most important players.
"We are down to the bare bones just at a time when you need to freshen it up," said Bruce.
"You accept three or four, but don't expect nine - and some of them have had serious injuries which has have kept them out for three or four months.
"One of the biggest weapons for a manager is competition for places and, at the moment, we are decimated. The team is picking itself and that's dangerous, but we've got to knuckle down and get on with it."
Bruce's decision to sign a new contract that keeps him at Sunderland until 2014 has coincided with their worst run of results since he took over 20 months ago.
They have lost four in a row and will face Liverpool and Manchester City after attempting to pull off a surprise win at the Emirates.
"We are on a run that we need to halt - simple as that," he said.
"It's a hell of a run of fixtures and we've got to see it through as best we can and hopefully by the end of the month we will have our big players ready and available."
Craig Gordon, the Scotland international goalkeeper, is the latest Sunderland casualty and he will see a specialist in Sweden on Monday about his knee injury.
At least Bruce know Arsenal have worries about van Persie, Walcott and Fabregas. "Those three are vital to Arsenal," he said.
"They are big players. Van Persie has given them an unbelievable cutting edge and is one of the top players in this country."