This time last season, Joel Campbell was being readied for a loan to La Liga side, Villarreal. He was deemed as surplus to requirements by Arsenal fans after the glimpses of talent shown at the 2014 World Cup were not replicated for the London side. Campbell’s long-term future at Arsenal was in doubt as he set off for his fourth loan spell since joining the Gunners in 2011. The loan move to Spain ended the first opportunity he had been given to get into the Arsenal first team squad since his transfer to North London, as he had been loaned out for full seasons the past three years.
It’s a similar story to the one of Francis Coquelin…
A player on the brink of his Arsenal career manages to get a run in the first team due to injuries and impresses.
Joel Campbell joined Arsenal in 2011 from Costa Rican side, Deportivo Saprissa for an undisclosed fee. At the time he was only 19 years old, but he had played in the Copa America for his country and had accumulated six international caps. He was relatively unknown in England and he actually failed to get a work permit. Immediately shipped off on loan to Lorient, Campbell was forgotten about by the majority of fans in North London. He spent the next season in Spain at Real Betis and he finally managed to obtain his work permit the following season in 2013.
Despite these two season-long loan moves, Campbell failed to impress Arsene Wenger enough to claim a position in the Arsenal squad for the 2013-14 season, so he was sent on loan to Greek Superleague champions, Olympiacos. This was a step up from his previous loan moves. Olympiacos were competing in the Champions League, which would give Campbell the chance to prove himself against Europe’s finest – including PSG, Benfica and Manchester United.
Campbell took his chance at Olympiacos where he won the league title, got 11 goals and 9 assists. However, arguably his biggest achievement was reminding Arsenal fans of his existence with a brilliant goal against Manchester United in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Olympiacos beat United 2-0 in the first leg of the tie and Campbell scored with a long-distance curling shot into the bottom corner. Arsenal fans immediately began questioning who this player was and wondering whether he will play for them after returning from his loan spell the following season.
The 2014 World Cup followed Campbell’s successful season in Greece where Costa Rica were the surprise nation of the tournament. Topping a group that included Uruguay, Italy and England, Costa Rica were unbeaten in the competition, only losing on penalties to third place finishers, Netherlands, in the quarter finals. Campbell played in a centre forward role for his country and scored their opening goal in the tournament against Uruguay.
Throughout the tournament, Campbell showed the world his energy and passion for the game. His defensive work, creativity and pace were vital to Costa Rica and the intrigue from Arsenal fans was heightened. He would return to Arsenal after the World Cup and it would be the first season where he was not immediately loaned out.
However, despite being involved in the first team squad, Campbell was limited to 10 appearances at the North London club in the 2014/15 season. He was only given three starts; none of which were in the Premier League and he was shipped off to Villarreal on loan in the January transfer window. It was a move that disappointed Arsenal fans, as he was not really given a real chance in the side after an encouraging display at the World Cup.
It seemed to mark the end of his Arsenal career after a disappointing spell at Villarreal made him become the forgotten man at the Emirates upon his return. After constantly being linked to a summer move to Serie A’s Palermo, Campbell only ended up staying at Arsenal due to the fact that a transfer fee was not agreed.
Campbell had to wait until the end of October to make his first Premier League appearance of the season for Arsenal. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott were both injured against Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup, which forced Wenger to start Campbell against Swansea. After a slow start to the game, he managed to score his first goal for Arsenal in his first league start.
It is now January and Campbell has been consistently starting for Arsenal since the end of October. He has got 3 goals and 3 assists this season and his overall game play has been fantastic for his club. He works extremely hard defensively and has been creating great chances for his teammates. Campbell has formed a formidable partnership with right-back, Hector Bellerin, and his confidence levels have grown immensely.
Playing on the right wing, he plays a similar game to Alexis Sanchez in the way that he puts in a defensive shift, but also acts as an inside-forward which allows the full-back to attack. Similarly to Sanchez, Campbell works hard for his team and cuts inside when he attacks defenders. He has shown supporters that he is not afraid to dribbling at the opposition and that he has a keen eye for a pass, as he has initiated some brilliant moves for the side.
Joel Campbell has now overtaken Oxlade-Chamberlain in the pecking order and I would implore Arsene Wenger to keep him in the side when Alexis returns from injury ahead of Walcott. Walcott is a great player, but like Oxlade-Chamberlain, he has been in poor form recently. Campbell has been a revelation since coming into the side, especially as he was so close to leaving. Like Francis Coquelin last year, Campbell was given the chance because of injuries and has proved himself as more than good enough for Arsenal. Campbell could be key in the battle for the Premier League trophy that has been missing from North London since 2004 if his bright form continues.