09 December 2015

Campbell's work is mmm, mmm, good!

I told you. Didn't I tell you? I told Giroud to go out and have a big game, and did he ever. He delivered his first-ever hat-trick for Arsenal, nodding home at the near post, slotting home on a perfectly timed run, and smashing home a spot-kick for good measure. On a night when we had to win 0-2 or score three goals to win, Giroud decided to obey me for once and tick both boxes.

Okay, so I don't quite have those powers of prognostication. However, I can't help but pat myself on the back when, even if by dumb luck, my predictions pan out. I called on Giroud to lead us into the knockout stage, and he did that in spades. Less predictable, however, was the play of Joel Campbell, who scintillated and tantalized by turns in his best stint to date, one good enough to suggest he's ready.

Ready for what? Ready for a recurring role in this squad. Yes, Giroud will command all of the headlines, and rightly so—he did, after all, get that hat-trick. However, probing past the stunningly obvious, we have to admit (and admire) how well Campbell played in his first real test. The 23-year old has played a total of 560 minutes for Arsenal, but the 90 that he put in on Wednesday have to stand as the most-intense—and most-productive—of his tenure. He had to know that anything less than his best could end the club's 15-year run of advancing to the Champions League knockout stage, but he delivered. While his performance was far from perfect, he impressed so thoroughly that he earned a warm round of applause from everyone in attendance when he was subbed off.

No, he wasn't the most clinical of players—there were still too many sloppy passes, clumsy first-touches, and dispossessions—but the gap between what was expected of him and what he delivered might very well have been the difference betweeen Arsenal merely winning the match and advancing to the next round. His workrate is what will stand out because, put simply, he seemed to never stop moving, pressing, or running, but his growing confidence is what truly stands out. That quality, so crucial to a player's success, was perhaps best on display when he assisted Giroud for the second goal. His delightful little dance over the ball, and the inch-perfect pass, were—dare I say it?—Bergkampesque. I hardly mean to equate the two. It was just a moment in time, after all.

However, it does suggest that the kid from Costa Rica can contribute. He's now found two assists and a goal in his last three starts (and might have had one other assist but for Flamini's shot hitting the crossbar early on). Ready for a bit of a shocker? Campbell delivered more key-passes on the night than Özil did. Even if the sample-size is small, it's tantalizing indeed to think that Arsène has again unearthed a diamond in the rough.

Last spring it was Coquelin. Could Campbell reprise the role of unlikely hero? As with Coquelin, injuries have thrust Campbell into a vital role after a series of loan-spells. As with Coquelin, we have on our hands a scrappy underdog whom few believed in and who has a lot to prove. We could do with a few players who have chips on their shoulders. That hunger and that drive can go a long way when the chips are down. Add to that Campbell's growing sense of confidence in himself and chemistry with his teammates, and we could be witnessing the emergence of another player who's "like a new signing" in the best sense of that phrase.