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Jun 30, 2014

Arsenal's difficult situation with Joel Campbell

Joel Campbell's goals vs. Uruguay set the tone for an unforgettable World Cup campaign.
Joel Campbell has impressed on loan and at the World Cup, but has yet to feature for Arsenal since joining in 2011.

The case of Joel Campbell is a curious one from an Arsenal point of view.

In summer 2011, before the sales of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and at a time when Arsenal's squad needed strengthening ahead of the new campaign, chief transfer fixer Dick Law spent almost a week in Costa Rica. Having been given the runaround by a number of agents purporting to represent the young striker, he eventually secured Campbell's signature, with the Gunners paying about 1 million pounds for his services.

They obviously saw something in him to spend that much time at a crucial juncture in the offseason to try and bring him to England, but an application for a "special talent" work permit was rejected. At that point, he hadn't played enough international games to qualify and it meant he would spend the next two seasons on loan.

First, he went to Lorient in France, where he played regularly and scored five goals during the campaign. After that it was to La Liga and a season with Real Betis, which saw a smaller return of two goals, but the Spanish side were impressed enough to try and keep him for another year.

- Transfer Talk Arsenal eye trio of strikers

Arsenal refused to sanction that move again, and in summer 2013, Campbell qualified for a work permit to play in England. However, there was no place for him in Arsene Wenger's squad, and he was sent out on loan to Greece, where he had a fine season for Olympiacos.

Wenger's decision to let him go last summer did raise some eyebrows, especially when you consider he kept the much inferior Ryo Miyaichi. Was it a sign that he believed the Costa Rican wasn't ready, or a decision to see if he could make a significant step up for a team playing Champions League football? If it was the latter, it was an inspired piece of management, as Campbell scored nine times -- including a memorable strike against Manchester United -- as well as providing 11 assists.

He has continued his progress at the World Cup, scoring against Uruguay and impressing in every game since. His cool penalty against Greece belied his tender years.

Yet, according to former Gunner Lee Dixon, the Arsenal manager was considering selling the player and wasn't exactly definitive about his future, stating "we'll see" when asked if he'd be part of the squad next season.

While Campbell has caught the eye, Arsenal have an abundance of options in attack -- even before they add to it this summer.

There's certainly promise and potential there, and perhaps playing on a better team at a better level would see him develop further. The big question is whether he improves Arsenal sufficiently for him to be given a real chance. There are very few people who would argue that the Gunners don't need a new striker this summer, but it's much harder to convince anyone that Campbell is the man to take the team forward. Olivier Giroud scored 22 goals and made nine assists last season, and what Arsenal require is somebody who can improve on that. It's very difficult to see Campbell as that player right now.

There are those who would argue that he could provide greater depth to the squad, and that's true. With Nicklas Bendtner departed, he could definitely take his place in the squad, but the Dane made just one league start last season. Is Campbell better than Yaya Sanogo? Quite probably, but he's a different kind of forward and really that's not where any kind of bar should be set.

In the current Arsenal setup, Campbell would probably struggle as the lone striker, so playing wide left or right would be the best option. Yet in those positions, Wenger already has Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. There's also the very highly thought of Serge Gnabry to consider.

Unless one or two of those players move on, it's hard to see Campbell playing as regularly as he would like. And assuming Arsenal do bring in the striker everyone wants, that pushes him even further down the pecking order.

Having had three seasons of first-team football, you also have to wonder if he'd be content to sit on the Emirates bench. With Costa Rica going further than expected in the World Cup and with players in Brazil given extended holidays, there's also the issue of his preseason starting later than that of others, and that's the time where he might convince Wenger he can give the squad something different.

At the very least, his progress in Greece and the impact he's made at the World Cup should see Arsenal turn a tidy profit if they decided to sell him. It remains to be seen if he's going to make north London his home for the foreseeable future.

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