Few knew who Joel Campbell was before he faced Manchester United in the Champions League last week, but by the end of the game his obvious talent was making us all start asking questions.
Cutting inside from his right-hand berth, the young forward put the ball through Michael Carrick’s legs before curling his shot into the net from 25 yards. Such a display of skill makes one question what impact the Costa Rican can have at the Emirates next season.
Campbell has had a somewhat nomadic existence since joining Arsenal in 2011. Unable to gain a work permit to play in England for his first two years, Arsenal were forced to outsource his development to other clubs. He initially joined FC Lorient on a season-long loan, before spending last season at Real Betis. However, despite being granted a work-permit to play in England last summer, Arsenal felt it would be better for Campbell to go on loan for a third season, to Olympiakos, in order to continue playing first-team football.
The level of Campbell’s performances for the Greek champions this season would make some doubt the wisdom of that decision. He’s scored seven goals in his 20 starts in the Super League, and in the 5-1 over OFI Crete he scored one goal and set up the other four. And at 21, he’s already racked up 30 international appearances, including 8 goals.
The young forward was influential in helping Costa Rica surprise many by finishing above Mexico in the CONCAF World Cup Qualifiers and he will likely get the privilege of playing against some of his Arsenal teammates when England play Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte.
Couple these facts with his wonder strike against Manchester United and it would be easy to come to the conclusion that Campbell could have a big impact at the Emirates next season. But are we in danger of over-stating the difference that the Costa Rican could make?
First of all, Campbell’s form in the Greek Super League must be put into context. Namely that it’s the Greek Super League. Olympiakos have been Greek champions for the past three seasons and are currently 19 points ahead of Atromitos Athens with seven games left to play. They’ve only lost once in their 24 matches and score on average of more than three goals a game. Essentially, they are by far the best team in a league that’s best players tend to be those that have failed to make it in Europe’s top divisions.
The counter argument to this would be to point to Campbell’s performances in this season’s Champions League. Olympiakos have surprised many by coming through a group that featured Paris Saint Germain and Benfica, and look likely to make it to the last eight.
However, Campbell spent most of the group stages on the bench and his goal against Manchester United was his first direct contribution in Europe. One must also consider how poor Man United were in this game, and that by sitting back they allowed the Greek Champions to play the kind of way that they enjoy in the Super League.
Perhaps the best argument for Campbell making an impact at Arsenal next season comes from the situation the Gunners currently find themselves in. The North London club’s forward line have been stuttering of late, and while a lot has been made of the contribution Giroud makes to normal play, his lack of goals this season must be cause for concern.
With Bendtner on the way out and Yaya Sanogo yet to show anything more than potential, there could be room for the Costa Rican in the Gunners’ attack next season.
However, the most worrying thing in all the excitement surrounding Joel Campbell is not that he’ll fail, but that he’s being seriously touted as a potential solution to Arsenal’s problems. If Wenger really considers the Costa Rican to be the solution to the Gunner’s woes, then their problems may run deeper than first feared.