27 November 2015

The Campbell that ate the Canary...

There's tantalizing news ahead of our Sunday clash with Norwich, what with the availability of first-team regulars such as Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey dangled in front of us, each of them now available after long injury-spells. Naturally, the mind turns to those who have featured and fascinated, especially Ramsey, who has delivered some scintillating moments against the Canaries in recent seasons. However, given this and future fixtures, I'm looking to Joel Campbell to electrify us. Fresh off of a confident performance on Tuesday against Dinamo Zagreb, he's well-positioned to eviscerate Norwich.

A quick look at his performance over the last few weeks should give Alex Neil something to consider. Beyond Campbell's assist against Dinamo, even delving deeper into the past to see his goal against Swansea, it's becoming tantalizingly possible that Campbell could challenge for a regular role on the right flank. By contrast with one putative challenger, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Campbell has shown an admirable ability to not only track back but to win back the ball in our own defensive third. Contrast that against the Ox's lamentable willingness to cough it up on the edge of the area. not to mention the ensuing consequences.

The Ox, though younger than Campbell, has been a first-teamer since the 2011-12 season—but it would be hard to prove that he's distinguished himself to a degree that would earn him the starting spot on Sunday. Campbell, with far fewer minutes under his belt, is just starting to bed in. Let's be honest: this is his first "real" campaign with Arsenal. Yes, his most-dynamic contributions to the current campaign—a goal against Swansea and an assist against Dinamo Zagreb—have come when we already had the game well in hand, but he's still a player on the make, linking up more and more effectively with the likes of Alexis, Özil, and Bellerín. He might not be cut from quite the same cloth, but he's starting to show that he can cut the mustard (apologies for mixing my metaphors...).

Our other option at the moment is, of course, Ramsey, who has been nursing a hamstring injury for several weeks already. While we could bring him back in order to restore our squad to something resembling full strength, should we? Ramsey likes to get into central positions, but Norwich will likely pack their defense into the middle, daring us to use the conceded width on the wings. Rather than rushing Ramsey back, then, it might make more sense to deploy Campbell, who is more willing to stay wide and exploit the space that Norwich's defense makes available. His increasing comfort and confidence on the pitch suggest that he's ready to take the next steps in his progression.

Don't quite believe me? After the Dinamo result, Arsène was full of praise:
He has a genuine attitude. He is a professional, and he combined very well with Özil and Bellerín on the right wing in the first half, and he had some dangerous moments...In the second half, he gave a fantastic ball to Alexis for goal number three, and that shows he has individual skill... When you are a player that never gets a chance and then you come in and get 90 minutes throughout October and November, you have to show that you are in this team, and that is not easy...When you look at his overall performances, you cannot say that he has not done well. Overall, his contribution has been great.
Of course, the proof is in the pudding, and it will be up to Campbell to show that we can rely on him when the going gets tough. It's one thing to score or assist when we're already up 2-0 (as we were against Swansea and Dinamo); it's quite another to get the squad rolling with an early contribution that sets the tone for the rest of the match.

Even if Ox and Rambo are available, then, I hope we see Campbell starting on the right. He's grown by leaps and bounds in recent weeks and is poised elevate his game to the next level. It might not be quite enough to convince us that he can slay the likes of Man City, but it should be enough to help us ease past the likes of Norwich...