Having been abroad for a week, I am catching up with all things Arsenal. I did see the whole of Tuesday’s poor showing in the League Cup, and have now seen the highlights of the hard earned victory at the Liberty. There is so much to discuss/write about, but I will concentrate on a few points and themes.
Firstly, it would be impossible to scribe on the Gunners this week without commenting on the growing injury list at the club, with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott both succumbing to soft tissue injuries against Wednesday. I am not about to jump on the crisis bandwagon because, to me at least, it appears evident that since the arrival of Forsyth in the summer of 2014, the occurrence of these type of problems has diminished. Until this last week or two, our record had been better in this campaign relative to what we have come to expect from previous campaigns. One hopes that Ramsey, and this week’s two casualties, will be back in the frame within weeks and not months, but as is always the case, one man’s misfortune is another man’s good fortune.
I have written on this subject recently for Gunners Town. This has, in no small part, been down to certain individuals grasping their opportunity when incumbent first teamers were injured. The most notable examples evidently are Francis Coquelin and Nacho Monreal. I cannot imagine at the start of the 14/15 campaign that too many Arsenal fans had either in the first-team squad, let alone as first-team regulars. In fact, both are now far more than just regulars and are more integral components in what is threatening to be a well-oiled Premier League machine.
Now this is a machine that since losing to Chelsea (I know!!) has won five straight matches in the league. In that winning streak, three of which have been away from home, Arsenal have scored 15 and conceded only four. Two of those wins have been against two of the other sides in the top four at present – Leicester and Man United. We are level pegging at the top and have, on paper, a reasonable run of fixtures until we play Man City – our present main rivals just before Christmas. The question is can we win the winnable games over the next few weeks without Ramsey, Walcott and Chamberlain?
The answer may lie in the ability of Joel Campbell to become the latest player at Arsenal to take full advantage of his colleagues’ misfortunes. Those who have read my articles since the summer of 2011 will know well that I have championed the Costa Rica international’s cause. I followed his loans with interest, recorded his progress and tracked his competitive international appearances to assess when his work permit could be granted. However, despite his huge success at Olympiacos, my enthusiasm waned, not because of any personal doubting of his ability, but more that Wenger himself seemed very unconvinced. To loan him once the work permit was secured was one thing, but to do it again last season whilst affording him limited opportunity to show his worth did not hint at a positive outcome for the young man in N5.
I will not pretend to know what went on this past window but many reported that Campbell would leave, even after three other strikers left the club. I am not sure if it was Welbeck’s setback that changed the situation, but even with his unexpected rise in the pecking order his chances to impress had been limited. I do not however, go along with the crowd view that he is not good enough to play for Arsenal. There has never been a question for me about his talent or technical ability. You simply do not play 33 games for a mediocre Betis side in La Liga, gaining Europa qualification, and 43 times for Olympiacos, winning a title and scoring 11 goals, without ability. That is not even considering that he has more than 50 international caps and 10 international goals.
The question that remains unanswered about young Joel is whether he has the tenacity, physicality and work rate to play for Arsenal in the world’s most unforgiving league. If he can combine these attributes with his obvious talent and flair, we may have the next Coquelin-style fairytale but it is a big IF. Last season saw a change in our play with huge emphasis placed upon our wide played to work the flanks both ways and to support the full-back. This saw Theo’s days as a wide man over and that was never more obvious than ahead of the NLD last season in February, when Welbeck, who had not played for five weeks through injury, was selected over Walcott to play on the right. Campbell acquitted himself well against Swansea but a North London Derby against an aggressive and attacking Danny Rose is a whole new ball game. This week away in Munich and next weekend at home to Spurs could tell us an awful lot more about Joel Campbell’s credentials.
I wish him well.