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Joel Campbell Makes the Most of His Moment

From the time that Joel Campbell arrived at Arsenal, he has been an enigma. Work permit issues saw him go on loan straight away for three seasons with three different clubs in three different countries. On loan from Arsenal, he had 25 appearances for Lorient, 28 for Real Betis and 32 for Olympiacos. Campbell then made a brief return to the club, only to be loaned out again last January to finish up the season at Villarreal. He’s been with Arsenal since 2011, but is only just now seeing his first real run of games with the Gunners.

But that run honestly could not have come at a better time. Injuries to Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain provided Joel this chance, and (by most accounts) he has taken it. While he may not be a World Class player, he’s provided the work ethic and positive play that a battered and bruised side needs when attempting to maintain the consistency levels needed for a legitimate title run.

Campbell is not just showing his worth in the Prem, but in the Champions League as well, logging two assists. During the first couple games on his current run, I was still unsure about the contribution that Joel Campbell would bring to an injury-riddled Arsenal. I wasn’t sold on his ball security or his general decision-making. However, I wasn’t ready to write him off just yet, as I can admire anyone who tries to take on players to bring something positive to the game.

I vividly remember watching his assist to Giroud unfold against Olympiacos. Already diverting my eyes to the other side of the screen, waiting for him to lose the ball to set off the impending counter attack, I was taken back by his skill to avoid the defenders. Then, he slotted a reverse pass perfectly to a running Giroud for the finish. Absolutely sublime ball. I believe some described it as Bergkamp-esque. If I had to mark a turning point in my view of Joel Campbell, it would be that moment specifically.

It can be argued that it may even be a turning point for Campbell as a player. He’s now shown that he can play in the big games, when the team has its collective back against the wall. Campbell has been a beacon of hope for a right side that is digging deep for options. He’s playing with confidence and accountability, which is something the manager admires. Speaking on Campbell’s sudden re-emergence, Wenger told Arsenal.com, “You want to be surprised by the quality of your players. And I think where he surprises you is the intensity of his team work.”

That statement encompasses Campbell’s current situation. He’s seemingly come out of nowhere, worked hard for his teammates, and is currently helping secure results when many of our key players are out injured. The real question is, what happens to him when these key players return to the side?

I would venture to say that Alexis will reclaim his rightful position when he’s declared fit. Then there’s the matter of Welbeck and (hopefully, one day) Wilshire getting back into the team. Let’s not forget the return of Coqzorla as the preferred midfield pairing. Ramsey has been enjoying his time playing more centrally, a place he has historically voiced as his favored role. However, when Cazorla and Coquelin are fit again, will Ramsey not likely be pushed back out to the right, where he almost exclusively played before the midfield pairing fell to injury?

Joel has secured his place in the pecking order over a struggling Oxlade-Chamberlain, but what will become of him when our wealth of attacking options return? The sheer number of quality players that Arsenal have, when healthy (ha ha), could force Campbell right back to his previous position as a fringe player.

Surely this will be weighing on the mind of the gaffer. Arsene has set a relatively bold, new precedent in how he’s treated the Bellerin-Debuchy situation. Bellerin, though young, has taken the right back role and run away with it (at top-tier speeds, mind you). It seems that Wenger will allow his younger players to remain in the squad so long as they can prove that they can out-play their positional counterparts. We saw a very similar situation last season with Coquelin. He stepped in when the club needed him most and hasn’t given anyone the opportunity to take the position away from him. Fast forward a year, and now he’s a necessary stalwart in our healthy eleven. Joel Campbell has the potential to do the very same thing. However, the attacking talent that the Gunners have will not make it easy on him.

Then there’s the contract issue. Campbell’s contract is set to expire in the 2018, but there are some rumblings that a new deal could already be in the works. Without too much further speculation on that, Arsene will surely be keen to keep a young Campbell who is starting to unlock his potential rather than let him think he needs to look elsewhere to make his name.

For his part, Campbell hasn’t paved out his future just yet. He states,

“It can change from one day to the following one – you’re here today but you do not know where you are tomorrow… Today, you are in the starting line-up and tomorrow you are on the bench. Football is about moments and you have to take them.”

Well said, Joel. Well said.

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