It’s fortunate that Joel Campbell has landed at a club currently competing for a place in next season’s Champions League. Don’t get me wrong, Real Betis are not good enough to perform on two fronts, particularly one which is UEFA’s top club competition, but this challenge near the top of the La Liga table can only be a good thing for Arsenal’s Costa Rican striker.
The thing about Joel Campbell is he’s yet another name to arrive at Arsenal with plenty of promise, only for supporters to need to wait a couple of years to see him in the first team. This one could go a bit sour like the case of Carlos Vela, who has pleasantly finally found a home at Real Sociedad. In fact, there are far too many similarities with both strikers, where another disappointing outcome is very likely.
Campbell has done very well to work his way into the starting XI of Pepe Mel’s side. He plays on the flanks of the front three and has two goals, one of which was a stunning effort against Deportivo, and an assist up until this point. At 20, those aren’t really the numbers of a player who is destined to be a prolific forward, but he makes up for it in other areas of this game.
The thing is Campbell had a very difficult time settling in at Betis. As is normally the case with players from South America, international duty has been a frustration for his manager in Seville and in disrupting his development and progression to regular first-team status. It’s nothing to do with his attitude or lack of willingness to learn, but the long flights away for meaningless friendlies really haven’t done anyone any favours.
Will that be problematic for Arsenal in the future? You’ve got to think that it will be to some degree. And let’s not get confused about this: every major club in Europe currently has to deal with the matter of South Americans leaving for international duty; that’s nothing new or central to Arsenal. The problem arises when the player’s maximum hasn’t been reached because he often flies out and misses training sessions or matches.
Real Betis have been excellent for most of the season and Pepe Mel’s side could very well finish fourth in May. So it’s worth asking if he can put faith in a player like Campbell when he’s so regularly away from the squad.
Well there’s an upside. As mentioned, Campbell has been featuring regularly for Betis in recent weeks. He has shown on occasion just why Arsenal made the move for him, despite failing to be granted a work permit. He’s a hard worker and has the intelligence and technique to excel in any of the top European leagues.
The other problem with Campbell, however, is you’ve got to wonder how much attention he’ll be given when he does return to Arsenal. Like most players his age he needs regular first-team football and the opportunities to grow. At this stage, he is not better than Theo Walcott, and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain’s most eye-catching performances for Arsenal have outshone anything Campbell has done so far in Europe. But it doesn’t mean the potential isn’t there. However, Carlos Vela’s lack of opportunities at Arsenal didn’t mean his potential wasn’t there either.
When talking about the youngsters on Arsenal’s books, it’s worth comparing Campbell with Thomas Eisfeld and Serge Gnabry. From what has been suggested, both German players are the leading names in the next wave of youngsters at the club. Gnabry began receiving rave reviews almost as soon as he arrived at the club, and those who have seen Eisfeld’s cameos in the first-team would have been greatly impressed. Both Germans seem to have the potential to go even further than Campbell when they mature, and both should be seen as the diamonds in the Arsenal reserves. In fact, even Vela I’d argue had greater upside to his game than Campbell.
But let’s not assume that Campbell is going nowhere in his career. He will definitely need another loan move next season in order to continue his development. He, like Walcott and Vela, wants the central striker role. He was spoken about very highly in the Costa Rican youth teams and could blossom into a good goal scorer in Europe, however maybe not an elite player.
I have my reservations as to whether he will make it at Arsenal. Recent history suggests he won’t, and it’s often easy for the manager to neglect players like Campbell when they’ve been away for so long. But maybe that’s for the best. The fact that the player is now playing for Betis and helping them to the highest possible place in La Liga – just to point out, they’re well ahead of city-rivals Sevilla in the league table – means there will be others in Spain who would love to take him on loan or on a permanent transfer.
There is a good player in Joel Campbell, but the need for success and better performances on the pitch, among other factors, could mean he won’t be given a chance next season at Arsenal.
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