Joel Campbell Jets into London to Try to Save His Arsenal Career

James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistJuly 20, 2014


Joel Campbell has left Costa Rica on a flight bound for London. His mission is simple: to rescue his career as an Arsenal player.

It’s easy to forget, but Campbell was first signed by Arsene Wenger three years ago. The speedy forward was spotted by former Gunners player and now scout Danny Karbassiyoon playing as a youth international. Wenger subsequently sent his transfer fixer Dick Law to Costa Rica to negotiate with Deportivo Saprissa for Campbell’s signature.

Campbell’s name became a byword for Arsenal’s dallying in the transfer market. The transfer talks were protracted and came close to collapse on more than one occasion. Arsenal fans vented their frustration as the club pursued an unknown youngster when they needed significant recruits for the first team. In the end, the deal got done and Campbell signed for Arsenal.

However, the farce was compounded by the fact that Campbell wasn’t eligible to play. For the first two years of his time as an Arsenal player, he did not qualify for a British work permit that would allow him to train and play with Arsenal. Instead, he was sent on loan to Lorient and then Real Betis.

Last summer, his regular appearances for the Costa Rican national team ensured he would be able to play in the Premier League. Nevertheless, Wenger loaned him out again, this time to Olympiakos.

It was in Greece that Arsenal fans really began to take notice of Campbell. He caught the eye in the Champions League tie against Manchester United, scoring with an impressive strike from range against a side that were, at that time, the English champions.

He capped a creditable season by figuring prominently at the World Cup, scoring in Costa Rica’s victory over Uruguay and leading the line well throughout.

RECIFE, BRAZIL - JUNE 29: Joel Campbell (L) and Yeltsin Tejeda of Costa Rica celebrate after defeating Greece in a penalty shootout during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Costa Rica and Greece at Arena Pernambuco on June 29, 2014
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

At 22, Campbell is already a journeyman. He has played for four clubs in his professional career, in four different countries. Now, he hopes to add a fifth: Arsenal.

Campbell will join up with Arsenal’s pre-season training, and he could even travel with the club to New York for the friendly against Thierry Henry’s Red Bulls. The challenge is to prove that he deserves a place in Arsene Wenger’s 25-man squad for next season.

It might be an uphill battle. If Wenger opted to send Campbell out on loan last year and rely instead on Nicklas Bendtner, one has to wonder how much faith he has in the Costa Rican. He might also be tempted to cash in on the player while his stock is high. After his performances in Brazil, Campbell is more valuable than ever.

However, there is an opportunity for him in London. Arsenal are not overly well-stocked with strikers. Olivier Giroud remains the prominent centre-forward, with Alexis Sanchez likely to be groomed into the role over the coming season.

Beyond that, you’re looking at the likes of Yaya Sanogo and Chuba Akpom—raw youngsters with a lot less playing time under their belts than Campbell. If Campbell can make a good impression in training, Wenger might choose to keep him on and allow Sanogo and Akpom a chance to gain experience on loan.

The next few weeks will be a crucial period for Campbell. They could well decide the course of his entire career. Fortunately, he seems determined to give it his all. Arsenal remain his dream, and he won’t be prepared to let go of that without one hell of a fight.


James McNicholas is Bleacher Report’s lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.