Pre-season is all about fitness, which is why there should be little importance placed on Arsenal’s 1-0 loss in the Emirates Cup to Monaco, and even less emphasis on the 5-1 hammering of Benfica a day earlier on Saturday.
Arsenal’s friendly tournament did offer a little insight to the current stages of two of Arsene Wenger’s young forwards, however.
The loudest cheer on Saturday arrived upon Alexis Sanchez’s showing, naturally. But there were plenty of eyes on Joel Campbell and Yaya Sanogo, with the latter picking up four goals – his first in an Arsenal shirt – against last season’s Europa League finalists.
Wenger made a point last season of commenting that Sanogo would surprise Arsenal supporters. Either it was a means to calm the unsettled masses after the comically cliché signing of the young French forward, or there was something genuine and sincere about what the Arsenal boss had to say.
Sanogo has the build to be a good player in the Premier League – there has been little doubt about that. The real question is whether he has the class and quality to play for a club like Arsenal. Though Wenger’s faith never seemed to waver last season, allowing for Sanogo to see minutes in extremely high-stakes games against Bayern Munich and Liverpool, as well as the semi-final and final of the FA Cup, the former Auxerre forward generally frustrated supporters, in spite of his willingness to work.
The Emirates Cup, as forgotten as it will be this time next week, may prove to be the watershed moment Sanogo needed. Friendly or not, scoring four goals will do wonders for the confidence of a striker who has had his fair share of opportunities to find that until-now elusive goal.
But the Frenchman is still a little way off being a good enough contributor to Arsenal, and though Wenger has a history of standing by youngsters at Arsenal, many are wise to the thought that the manager had little other option beside turning to Sanogo last season, with so few options behind first-choice striker Olivier Giroud.
A loan move for Sanogo is best, and preferably within the Premier League. It’s a huge step up from Ligue 2 Auxerre to a club battling for silverware on numerous fronts and competing in the Champions League. This time around, Wenger does have the options in his squad to relieve Sanogo for the upcoming campaign and allow for a much-needed loan spell away from the limelight of the Emirates.
One of those options is Joel Campbell, who was one of the standout performers in Arsenal’s win against Benfica.
It’s been an excellent year for the Costa Rican international thus far. He had been enjoying a promising loan spell at Olympiakos last season, but very much needed that goal against Manchester United in the Champions League to get his name out there and the ball rolling on what looks to be a bright future.
That was followed by his performances with his national side at the World Cup, in which Campbell proved to be one of the better players in his age group in Brazil. It didn’t take long for the calls from Arsenal supporters to arrive for Campbell to be included in the first-team squad for this season.
And the Emirate Cup has only furthered that claim that the 22-year-old merits a place in Wenger’s squad. Lining up on the right side of attack, Campbell was key in much of Arsenal’s good attacking play. He’s skilful, direct, possesses the quickness Arsenal were desperately short of last season, and certainly has the skill to delight supporters. His goal, Arsenal’s second against Benfica, was as good as anything he’s produced up until now.
Such has been Campbell’s ascent this year that AC Milan have been said to be interested in his services. Though the Italian side have seen a sharp downturn in form over the last 12 months, Milan is still a notable step up from Real Betis and Olympiakos – provided Arsenal choose to move Campbell on.
But in the event Wenger stays true to his word – the manager recently said one, possibly two, new players will arrive; and Arsenal will need a defensive midfielder and possibly a centre-back – Campbell must be retained to add depth and quality to the front line.
The Costa Rican is versatile enough to play anywhere across the front three, but it’s on the flanks where his value will be most evident. Arsenal, having struggled last season in attack, need options who can get behind opposition backlines and help to stretch the play. Alexis is on the books now, so too is Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but there is no harm in adding even more quality and firepower.
Campbell and Sanogo are quite clearly at different stages in their development. Having seen plenty of top flight football in recent seasons, as well as top international football, Campbell is very much at the stage where he can be considered a valuable member of the Arsenal squad. Sanogo, on the other hand, still has a little way to go. The options available to Wenger now means he can tap the breaks a little in regards to the French forward and allow him the time to develop at his own pace.
The Emirates Cup is a good event to showcase the club’s newest arrivals, but we have also been able to take a lot from the performances of two of Arsenal’s bright young forwards.