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The best Campbell can hope for at Arsenal is the bench

Andrew Mangan | ESPN FC
June 30, 2014
Will the Netherlands send Joel Campbell home?

The case of Joel Campbell is a curious one from an Arsenal point of view.

In the summer of 2011, before the sales of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and at a time when Arsenal's squad needed strengthening before the new campaign, the chief transfer fixer Dick Law spent almost a week in Costa Rica. Having been given the run-around by a number of agents purporting to represent the young striker, he eventually secured his signature with the club paying around £1 million for his services.

They obviously saw something in him to spend that much time at a crucial juncture in the off-season to try and bring him to England but an application for a "special talent" work permit was rejected. At that point he hadn't played enough international games to qualify and it meant he would spend the next two seasons on loan.

Firstly, he went to Lorient in France where he played regularly and scored five goals during the campaign. After that it was to La Liga and a season with Real Betis which saw a smaller return of two goals but the Spanish side were impressed enough to try and keep him for another year.

'If he was Brazilian, he'd be a world star'

Campbell senior has high hopes for son Joel © Getty Images
  • Joel Campbell's father, Humberto, claims his boy has always been good enough for Arsenal and does not get the credit he deserves because he is not from one of the game's more established nations.
  • "My country is a small country and people pretty much ignore us," Campbell senior said. "If my son was Brazilian he would be famous around the world."
  • Click here to read the full story

Arsenal refused to sanction that move again and in the summer of 2013 Campbell qualified for a work permit to play in England. However, there was no place for him in Arsene Wenger's squad and he was sent out on loan to Greece, where he had a fine season for Olympiakos.

Wenger's decision to let him go last summer raised some eyebrows, especially when you consider he kept the much inferior Ryo Miyaichi. Was it a sign that he felt the Costa Rican wasn't ready, or a decision to see if he could make a significant step up for a team playing Champions League football? If it was the latter it was an inspired piece of management as Campbell scored nine goals - including a memorable strike against Manchester United - as well as providing 11 assists. He has continued his progress at the World Cup, scoring against Uruguay and impressing in every game since. His cool penalty against Greece belied his age of 22 years.

Yet, according to former Arsenal defender Lee Dixon, the manager was considering selling the player and wasn't exactly definitive about his future, stating "We'll see" when asked if he'd be part of the squad next season.

While Campbell has caught the eye, Arsenal have an abundance of options in attack - even before they add to it this summer. There's certainly promise and potential there and perhaps playing in a better team at a better level would see him develop further. The big question is whether or not he improves Arsenal sufficiently for him to be given a real chance.

There are very few people who would argue that Wenger doesn't t need a new striker this summer but it's much harder to convince anyone that Campbell is the man to take the team forward. Olivier Giroud scored 22 goals and provided nine assists last season - Arsenal require is somebody who can improve on that. It's very difficult to see Campbell as that player right now.

There are those who would argue that he could provide greater depth to the squad and that's true. With Nicklas Bendtner departed, he could definitely take his place in the squad, but the Dane made just one league start last season. Is Campbell better than Yaya Sanogo? Quite probably, but he's a different kind of forward and really that's not where any kind of bar should be set.

In the current Arsenal set-up, Campbell would probably struggle as the lone striker, so playing wide left or right would be the best option. Yet in those positions Arsene Wenger already has Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. There's also the very highly thought of Serge Gnabry to consider.

Unless one or two of those players move on, it's hard to see Campbell playing as regularly as he would like. And assuming Arsenal bring in the striker everyone wants, that pushes him even further down the pecking order.

Having had three seasons of first team football, you also have to wonder if he'd be content to sit on the Emirates bench. With Costa Rica going further than expected in the World Cup and with players in Brazil given extended holidays, there's also the issue of his pre-season being starting later than others and that's the time where he might convince Wenger he can give the squad something different.

At the very least his progress in Greece and the impact he's made at the World Cup should see Arsenal turn a tidy profit if they decided to sell him, but it remains to be seen if he's going to make north London his home for the foreseeable future.

Joel Campbell is 22 but has looked a more mature player at the World Cup © Getty Images
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