Joel Campbell: Can the Costa Rican Succeed on the English Premier League Stage?

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Joel Campbell: Can the Costa Rican Succeed on the English Premier League Stage?
Ricardo Mazalan/Associated Press

Costa Rica has been one of the most impressive and surprising teams at the World Cup, and Joel Campbell has been the best player on that side.

Surely some lucky, delirious individual somewhere bet on the Costa Ricans to win a group of death with Uruguay, Italy and England. Yet, incredibly, the tiny nation of nearly five million kicked football's historical giants to the side and topped the group on points.

Costa Rica's success is due largely to a small core of excellent players who just happen to be coming into their own at the same time. Bryan Ruiz, the side's captain, has proven himself to be an effective player in the Premier League, but Campbell is the star of the show.

Yet this is not the first time the Arsenal man has stepped into the brightest spotlight and proudly displayed his quality.

The highlight of his promising season on-loan at Olympiacos was certainly against Manchester United in the Champions League. Faced with a seemingly insurmountable tie against the English giants, Campbell decided that he and his team would not be stymied by the big occasion.

He scored on the reigning champions of England, but his goal was most certainly not pedestrian. It was, rather, a stunningly audacious exposition of power and finesse that gave David de Gea no chance in goal.

There have been hints for a while that Campbell is on the verge of blossoming. He began to be progressively more assertive in World Cup qualifying matches and slowly added goals to his club tally.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Anticipation built ahead of his journey to Brazil with his already overachieving national team. The hype has exploded now that Campbell has once again impressed in a very highly pressurized situation.

He could hardly have started his tournament better, scoring one and assisting one in Costa Rica's opening victory over Uruguay. Though he has not bagged either a goal or assist since, he has virtually driven his team's attack by himself in every subsequent match.

That influence, and Costa Rica's obvious reliance on a player who is clearly superior to almost the entire rest of the team, has people thinking that Campbell might be the answer to some of Arsenal's attacking problems.

Among the club's clearest needs this summer is another striker. It is abundantly clear that Olivier Giroud, though excellent on his day, is not physically capable of carrying the front line by himself all season. He is also simply not elite.

No one would expect Campbell to be direct competition for Giroud. Rather, he would serve as a backup capable of shredding lesser opposition in cup matches and altering the pace of a game as a late substitute when Arsenal are behind.

In essence, Campbell would be a more physically robust version of Yaya Sanogo who actually scores goals.

He is also versatile enough to play on the left wing if necessary, giving Arsenal more cover—never a bad thing, as the team painfully experienced last season.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Campbell is certainly a valuable option for Arsene Wenger to use during preseason. The boss should at least test him in different positions to get a sense of how he meshes with the rest of the squad and how his quality compares to the rest of the starting XI.

Yet the manager's ability to do so is hampered by the mandatory rest that Campbell and the other Arsenal players who competed in the World Cup will receive after the tournament concludes. He will likely miss the Gunners' U.S. tour and will not have much time to prepare for the new campaign.

Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

And since Campbell is 22, he will have to be listed in Arsenal's Premier League squad. Is he worth the spot?

Wenger has to ask whether he brings qualities to the team that are either not already present or not acquirable in the transfer market for a reasonable fee. And the answers are unconvincing.

All we are really going on in our evaluation of Campbell is a few stellar displays in big matches. Of course, they are remarkable achievements, but he only scored eight goals in 32 appearances for Olympiacos.

It is also difficult to see exactly how he would fit into the team's current tactical setup. At 5'10", he is small for a striker, especially in the physical Premier League. While by no means slight, Campbell is too short to be a Giroud-type center forward who can hold up play and distribute the ball to his teammates.

Doing so also requires a good deal of technical skill and nous, which Wenger will have to decide during preseason training if Campbell possesses. 

Wenger recently responded cryptically (via Here is the City) when asked if Campbell would play a part in the Gunners' upcoming season. No one ever knows what his plans are, and that holds true in this instance as well.

But do not get fooled by the temporary hype: Campbell is not a transformative solution to Arsenal's attacking problems.

 

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