Joel Campbell stole the show in Costa Rica’s 3-1 upset win over Uruguay, a game that really added to the consensus that this is a bloody good World Cup.
Campbell’s climb has been noteworthy and at stages impressive, taking steady steps to becoming a player happy with his surroundings at the top. He endured a difficult start to life at Real Betis two seasons ago. Going back and forth to Central America for international duty complicated matters as he attempted to adjust at the Spanish side; his first start in La Liga came at the tail end of October.
But he eventually got into the rhythm of things at the Seville club, tallying 21 starts in the league and finishing the season well enough for the club to enquire after his availability for the following season.
Due to financial issues at Betis, Campbell was instead farmed out to Olympiakos for last season, which is where he really began to shine. While at Betis, he looked promising, good in spells but nothing to really indicate he’d be a valuable member of the squad at Arsenal. While playing for the Greek outfit last season, his standout performance came in the Champions League at home to Manchester United. He was bright, lively, displayed good attacking instincts, and rounded out his performance with a fantastic goal.
The thing is, nothing at club level really convinced in the way his performance against Uruguay on Saturday did. Olympiakos looked like a natural progression from his days at Betis, but again coming up short with something that could convince he’d add genuine quality at Arsenal.
Against Uruguay, he looked a player who had taken a sizeable leap from where he was at this stage last year. He’s still green, but not to an extent where the doubts overshadow optimism. He threatened Fernando Muslera’s goal throughout the match; a long-range effort going narrowly wide in the second half before he finally got his goal, lashed in from close-range. It’s the kind of finishing Arsenal missed at various stages of last season.
But it was his retention and use of the ball that also impressed, with one phase leading to a pass that sent Marco Urena through on goal for Costa Rica’s third. Again, that aspect of Campbell’s game is raw but there’s a lot to work with.
It would be foolish to get overly carried away at this point. Campbell looks an exciting prospect; he’s much further along the road, and I personally didn’t see him as having a future at the Emirates before the game against Uruguay. But Arsene Wenger has hinted that Campbell could be part of the squad next season, saying he’ll return for preseason and that Wenger will make a decision from there.
Campbell has a lot of qualities to like that would be useful at Arsenal, but this isn’t the star striker the club are in need of. If Wenger really doesn’t fancy a return for Carlos Vela, it may be because he has Campbell in mind for that role, a role in the squad that would see him relieve other first-team regulars, and with Wenger rounding out the final phase of his education. He’d be nothing more than a squad player, but one who can clearly offer a lot.
One potential problem that could come into play is that if Arsenal do go ahead with the signing of a big-name centre-forward – and also add a winger – Campbell could see very little game time, with Theo Walcott set to return from injury, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud already on the books, and Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain further options for the flanks. But it isn’t really something that should be worried about too much. Arsenal aren’t a club who have the luxury of seeing all their best players fit at the same time. A bridge that can be crossed when (or if) Wenger gets there.
If Campbell continues on this upward trajectory and offers up at least one more performance at this World Cup like the one he gave against Uruguay, there will be a clamour for him to be included at Arsenal next season.
He turns 22 later this month and has been around the international scene for a number of years, having made his senior debut in 2011. Bottom line: there’s no harm in Arsenal having a full international of this quality as a backup for any position across the front three.