SALVADOR, Brazil—At this 2014 World Cup, Arsene Wenger won’t just be casting his eye over new talent for Arsenal. He’ll also be carefully watching one player who is already contracted to the Gunners: Joel Campbell signed his Arsenal deal three years ago but has yet to make a senior appearance for the club.
On the evidence of Costa Rica’s stunning victory over Uruguay, he may now be ready for the Premier League.
For the first two years of his Arsenal career, Campbell was forced to go out on loan due to work-permit regulations. He did not have the requisite international experience to be permitted to play in the Premier League. Instead, he enjoyed spells at French club Lorient and La Liga side Real Betis. While he was relatively quiet at Lorient, at Betis he earned a reputation as a prodigiously gifted young attacker.
Last summer, Campbell was finally granted a work permit. However, to some surprise, Arsenal once again opted to allow him to leave on loan. Having signed Yaya Sanogo from Auxerre, perhaps Wenger felt he could only find room for one promising young striker in the squad. He opted for the Frenchman.
It’s a decision that, on reflection, may have been the wrong one.
In Greece, Campbell flourished. Playing predominantly from the right wing, he scored an array of dazzling goals, including an eye-catching strike in the Champions League against Manchester United.
Sanogo, meanwhile, has yet to score a single goal in an Arsenal shirt. Had he been handed the same opportunities, one suspects Campbell might have fared rather better.
The two are not identical players. Sanogo is a target man in the making and more analogous in style with Olivier Giroud. He has the stature and strength to hold off most Premier League centre-backs, if not the finesse to fool them. Campbell, on the other hand, has played most of his football out wide.
However, against Uruguay, Campbell was deployed by Costa Rica through the middle. His performance demonstrated the extent of his development. His time on the flanks has endowed him with a remarkable ability to turn away from defenders in a limited amount of space.
The one constant is his outstanding left foot, which almost certainly caught the eye of the Arsenal scouts when Campbell was an unknown teenager. That was the weapon with which he bludgeoned home Costa Rica’s opener before splitting open the defence to create the third.
It would be ridiculous to suggest Campbell has shown he is the striker to take Arsenal to the next level. However, he has shown he is more than capable of bringing depth and quality to the squad. Certainly, his pace and composure would bring attributes to the Arsenal attack that were sorely lacking during 2013/14.
Campbell and Sanogo are both just 21. However, Campbell’s development has been accelerated by receiving regular football while on loan. It may be best for Yaya Sanogo to experience the same. In the meantime, Campbell should return to London to compete with Olivier Giroud and any other striker Arsenal sign.
His impact at the World Cup suggests he could make quite the bang when he eventually takes to the field for the Gunners.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report’s lead Arsenal correspondent and is reporting from his World Cup base in Brazil.