I’m pleased to publish this guest post by Jared Harris.
Joel Campbell recently vowed to continue fighting for a lasting spot on Arsenal’s first team, as the Gunners vie for the Premier League title. “I am very happy with the results so far,” Campbell said. “I am really very happy and that makes me work even more to be considered for the team.” It’s certainly going to take a lot of work, given the virtual legion Arsenal has returning from injury right around this time. Alexis Sanchez, Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck are all back in action and on the mend, and Santi Cazorla could be back soon as well.
But could Joel Campbell finally be delivering on the promise some saw when he first signed with Arsenal all the way back in 2011? Not long ago, the Campbell-to-Arsenal move was cited in a Premier League transfer quiz alongside other famous Bosman ruling transactions, such as McManaman-to-Real and Vialli-to-Chelsea. However, there’s absolutely no comparison between the moves in terms of impact thus far. Steve McManaman became one of the most successful English exports in football history, and Vialli won a League Cup as a player-manager at Chelsea. Campbell, by contrast, has essentially been loaned out time and time again since moving to London, leaving many to expect an eventual permanent exit.
Hopes for Campbell’s long-term future in England were raised briefly at the 2014 World Cup, where the young forward starred for a Costa Rica side that was better than most people anticipated. Campbell opened Costa Rica’s scoring in the event to spark what became a shocking 3-1 victory over Uruguay. He then continued to play a key role in their run to the quarterfinals (also notching a penalty in the round of 16 victory over Greece). Campbell turned 22 years old during the course of that World Cup, so there was some renewed excitement that a world-class attacker was emerging, and that he was already under the team control of Arsene Wenger and Co.
Campbell’s First Shot with the Gunners
Campbell did indeed get a shot with the Gunners following his World Cup performance, but he was promptly loaned out to Villareal the following January in what could have been a crushing blow to his long-term hopes with the franchise. This season, however, he’s unexpectedly gotten a very fair share of the opportunity at the Emirates Stadium. Campbell has played on-and-off the first team throughout 2015/16 as Arsenal has played its way into the round of 16 at the Champions League in addition to legitimate contention for the domestic title. Recently, he’s been pointed to as a pleasant surprise for Wenger—a legitimate key player on the wing. Wenger has explained that he refused to let Campbell go completely because the young player showed an intriguing work ethic, and now that work is paying off.
But hard work and hope aside, the Gooner faithful have also seen glimpses of an intriguing stylistic fit when Campbell’s made it onto the field with the first team. Heading into this season, one of the most persistent problems Arsenal had dealt with in recent years—admittedly due in part to injuries—was that Olivier Giroud at times seemed to be on an island up front. No matter the talent in the central midfield, Giroud has often been too easy for defences to focus on. We’ve seen this trend reversed to an extent this season, and while Campbell can’t truly be credited with the reversal, he certainly plays into the team’s ability to space out the attack more effectively. Capable on either wing opposite Welbeck, Walcott, or Oxlade-Chamberlain, Campbell is a direct and aggressive option at the top that spreads the defences’ focus.
Campbell’s Threat Down the Wings
Aside simply providing some assistance for Giroud, however, Campbell has also looked to be a particularly strong fit with Mesut Ozil as the Gunners’ best midfielder has found his assisting form in 2015/16. Ozil can get a through ball to anybody, and the kind of direct, blistering runs Campbell is capable of could become regular threats if the two are allowed to develop some chemistry.
Given all of this, Arsenal is in a somewhat-unexpected position of having an oft-overlooked up-and-comer who suddenly has a great deal of value. As of now, Campbell’s transfer value is listed on Transfer Markt at an even €8 million, but that number will increase if he continues to contribute for a contending Premier League club. That puts Wenger in a little bit of a tricky position given Arsenal’s sudden and rather incredible depth at the wing and attacking positions, but then again that’s a good problem to have.
Whether Campbell still factors into the Gunners’ future or not remains to be seen. He may still not make the same sort of impact that we’ve seen from past Bosman transfers like McManaman or Vialli, as mentioned above. But Arsenal’s investment seems likely to pay off in one way or another, either by sale or contribution.
Jared Harris is a freelance writer and blog contributor who covers a range of topics in sports. His primary interests are Premier League and international football.