Seven years can be a long time in football. At Arsenal, the last seven years has seen the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie leave for trophies, The Emirates stadium debt get paid, Yaya Sanogo come and go, three F.A. Cup trophies in four years and Arsene Wenger has decided to leave the club. Another thing Arsenal have seen in that time is the somewhat forgotten man, Joel Campbell yoyo about the place.
Over the course of Campbell’s seven seasons with us, we’ve seen him pass through the revolving loan door six times (twice before he had a work permit). Usually, we’d expect that sort of record to come from a club like Chelsea, but I reckon even they’d struggle to match that. Becoming something of a journeyman, Campbell had spells at Lorient, Olympiacos, Villarreal, Sporting Lisbon and he’s currently in his second spell at Real Betis.
Sandwiched in between all those loan spells, however, was one impressive year. He finally came into his Olympiacos in a season highlighted by a standout performance against Manchester United. This was followed by a stellar World Cup with Costa Rica, which saw a return to Arsenal in 2014. However, failing to make an impact he was shipped off to Villarreal midseason where he didn’t make much noise.
After everything that had happened, going into the 2015/16 season nobody really thought about Campbell in a great capacity. This was evident as his first appearance of the season didn’t come until Arsenal’s opening Champions League game against Dinamo Zagreb. A game which was lost 2-1. Following that Campbell became a Cup only player, however, something changed going into the winter months. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain picked up an injury which opened the door for Campbell.
Come Halloween 2015 and it was time for Campbell’s first Premier League start of the season away at Swansea. Over the course of the 90 minutes, the Costa Rican showed great work rate out on the right, tracking back and making three tackles, more than Koscielny and Mertesacker on the day. As well as doing his job defensively, he wasn’t scared to go forward. In the first-half, he was finding his range with efforts from outside the box, but everything came together after the break. In the second-half, Campbell held his width more which resulted in Mesut Ozil finding him in acres of space for the Costa Rican’s first Premier League goal.
After bulldozing his way through the opening left by Oxlade-Chamberlain, Campbell proved to be keen to stay in the side. Playing predominantly on the right wing, Campbell befitted from a lack of competition as the Ox was in and out of the side and Theo Walcott was still focused on becoming a striker. This is something that should be taken into account as the club don’t have many wingers now which is a reason why Campbell should be reintegrated into the squad.
He may have only scored four and assisted four goals in that season, but his performances were much more positive than his numbers suggest. Playing in front of a right back like Hector Bellerin, Campbell counteracted him very well. Going forward, he was a player he liked to come back onto his left foot often which allowed Bellerin more space to exploit. Creating more space for Bellerin in turn, worked well as he ended the campaign with a career-high of seven assists.
Giving Bellerin this licence, however, requires his partner on the right to be more selfless and cover him which Campbell also showed he’s able to do. During the course of that season didn’t hesitate in putting in a defensive effort and ended the campaign with just eight less (34) tackles than Bellerin (42). With Bellerin not quite having the same impact since, maybe giving him a bit more licence could help revive the form we saw in him at this time.
Back to Campbell though and as well as showing he can offer some defensive cover, more importantly, he impressed going forward. Not quite to the level of Alexis Sanchez on the opposite wing, but nevertheless, he still impressed.
Whether it was his close control, excellent decision making which earned him extra space to work his magic, as we saw against Olympiacos that year when he assisted Olivier Giroud:
What a pass from Joel Campbell pic.twitter.com/VW9H6a9Aaq
— Football Stuff (@FootbalIStuff) December 9, 2015
In that clip, you can see that Campbell possesses the quality to provide for those around him, but he can also pop up with the well-taken goal like he did against Sunderland.
If anything, the 2015/16 season was Campbell’s Arsenal audition, and for me, he passed with flying colours. Along with the aspects of his game I outlined above, he put in very impressive performances in big games against Tottenham at home and against Liverpool at Anfield.
Yes, looking at the squad now he may not be a big enough talent to maintain a first team position, but he could be used very well as a squad player. Furthermore, it’s easy to forget that Campbell is only 25 years old, so if Arsenal’s new manager takes a fancy to him, we could be seeing a lot more of Campbell on a much more regular basis. But until then, I believe this summer’s World Cup could play an important role in whether he is given a chance under the new manager. So, much like four years ago, the World Cup becomes the stage to kick-start his career, I just hope he takes full advantage of the opportunity.