clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Is Joel Campbell...actually good?

Unlike Francis Coquelin, Joel Campbell, filling in during an injury crisis, might actually be a talented soccer player.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Stop me if you've heard this before: Arsenal, suffering from a swift-moving injury crisis that depletes most of Arsene Wenger's options at a singular position, strikes gold in the form of a player who was long forgotten about, nearly left for dead, and weighing which club he'd be moving to in the January transfer window.

Pretty wild and improbable, right? Well, no. Not in Arsenal's case.

On Decemeber 7, 2014, Arsenal's loss away at Stoke City, in front of 28,000 tree-dwelling hobbits who were drunk off laundry detergent and braying for spilled blood, gave us the line of the season in the hours following the match:

Joel and Wenger decided to take the free advice dispensed by the expert above, and Joel got out a month later to Villarreal on a six-month loan. In twenty match appearances for the Yellow Submarine, Campbell had a singular goal and zero assists. Nothing that would make knees melt and heads turn back in London Colney.

Campbell started off the season coming off the bench and making occasional starts before consecutive injuries to Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, and Alexis Sanchez forced Arsene Wenger to turn to a guy who's spent the majority of his Arsenal career away on loan. Once Wenger shifted Aaron Ramsey back to his natural, and more effective, position in the center of the pitch (following his own time away due to injury) to account for the Cazorla and Coquelin injuries, and without Walcott, Ox, or Alexis to move wide right, the literal Last Man Standing to play in that position was Joel.

If ever there was a time to seize the moment and make oneself heard, understood, and valued, this was that time. And it appears Joel Campbell has done exactly that.

In his start at home in the Champions League versus Dinamo Zagreb, he successfully made run after run to a back line hellbent on defending at all costs, crossing the ball into space, displaying a brilliant first touch, and setting Alexis' goal with a perfectly-weighted through ball - the type of which we'd later see again from him.

His movement, while mostly linear and lacking any variance thus far, has been dictated by a keen sense of awareness and acceleration, as evidenced with his goal versus Sunderland last weekend:

Of course we're dealing with small sample size and what have you, but I think we're getting to the threshold of asking ourselves what sort of player Arsenal has on their hands, and what will eventually be his role with the club once the injured squad members get healthy. He's produced wonderful displays of vision, technique, skill, and awareness in his short time deputizing for his injured teammates, and has the faith in the boss that now-healthy Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain does not, and has not had for quite some time.

All of which raises a welcome, if challenging, question: if Joel Campbell is actually good (which I truly believe he is), then what does Arsene do when Alexis comes back? Or, at the end of the season when Coquelin and Cazorla are due to be playing and Arsene wants to move Ramsey out wide again? There's no question whether Joel takes Alexis' spot in the starting XI (SPOILER ALERT: he doesn't), but with Giroud's form as of late and Walcott having an impressive season when healthy, where does Joel fit in?

In all honesty, there is no one answer that rises above the others right now, so while waiting for those scenarios to show themselves in the form of future starting lineups, I'll just be over here admiring the charming story of how Joel Campbell finally proved his talent at Arsenal.