30 June 2014

Calming ourselves on Campbell: not quite the conqueror we crave...

Costa Rica are through to the quarterfinals, the first time ever in the country's history, and have become darlings of the tournament. With a gutsy, gritty performance that saw them hold off Greece for sixty minutes despite being a man down, suffering a heart-breaking equalizer late in regulation, the Ticos recovered well enough to get to penalties and win, converting all five while keeper Keylor Navas saved Greece's fourth attempt to clear the way for victory. For as thrilling a victory this is to Costa Ricans, I hope it's not too churlish of me to suggest that, for Gooners, the takeaway is a bit less awe-inducing. I speak of course of Joel Campbell, who has come down to Earth a bit after opening the World Cup with a bang. This is not to say we should turn our backs on bringing him back, just that we should temper expectations around what he could do.

After his star-turn against Uruguay, the one in which he turned in a goal and an assist while earning MotM honors, he's slowed a bit, turning in solid but but spectacular performances against Italy, England, and Greece. Part of this may reflect the increased defensive intensity of Italy and England compared to Uruguay, and his performance against Greece certainly reflects the increased pressure of being isolated as Costa Rica played a man down for so long. However, even with those factors in mind, it's hard to say that Campbell has dazzled, not well enough at least to show that he offers the upgrade at striker that we seek. At best, he'd offer a valuable alternative, perhaps as an impact sub, if we're chasing a goal. Then again, we've seen Sanogo play that role tolerably well.

Still, he does offer something that has been missing from our strikers in recent years: pace. Whereas watching Giroud or Sanogo lumber around has felt at times like rooting for a pregnant turtle to get up a hill, Campbell looks like he could match Ox or Walcott stride for stride. Seeing Campbell blaze past defenders has been one of the more thrilling elements of his game, even if it frequently isolated him from his teammates. Costa Rica's 5-4-1 asks Campbell to do a lot of work on his own, holding up the ball until teammates can get forward, but he also seems more than happy to see how far up the pitch he can get. Sometimes, this can backfire, as it seemed to do against Greece when Duarte's second yellow forced Costa Rica to play a man down for 30 minutes of regulation plus 30 of overtime. Still, discretion is the better part of valor, yet Campbell's seven times dispossessed and eight turnovers suggest a player a bit too eager to get forward rather than wait for support. He'd be unlikely to outrun our midfield to the same extent, but there's still a brashness there that feels reckless when defending a lead rather than chasing a goal.

Without dwelling too much on that one match, let's remember that Campbell's ascendancy has been the result of one other match, the one against Uruguay, and he's otherwise been good but hardly remarkable. He had a decent season in Greece's Super League, it's true, but the hype that has grown around Campbell since the World Cup seems to forget or ignore that body of evidence while accentuating his performance against Uruguay. Like many players his age, he may be capable of occasionally incredible feats. However, he's probably a year or more away from delivering those on a more-regular basis, often enough to elevate the ambitions of a club like Arsenal. Olympiakos ran away from the Super League, but Campbell wasn't even its top-scorer. He'd be a nifty addition to the squad, sure, but he's unlikely to compete with, supplant, or offer an upgrade on options we already have.

For that, we'll likely have to dig into the transfer-kitty and actually use some of it, bidding for the likes of Benzema, Balotelli, or Sánchez. I think we all know Arsène well enough to be wary of pinning too many hopes on that. Still, with 1 July coming up, it's possible we could see a signing or two holding up those new Puma-designed kits. I just hope Campbell isn't the only one...

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