The season may only be one month old, but already Joel Campbell’s opportunities to impress at Arsenal appear to be severely limited. In spite of Olivier Giroud’s fractured leg, Arsene Wenger is blessed with a variety of attacking options, and the Costa Rican appears to be some way towards the back of the queue. Campbell’s Arsenal dream is in danger of turning into a nightmare.
This summer, there was plenty of excitement about Campbell’s return to Arsenal. The striker had spent the last three seasons out on loan, building up enough international caps to qualify for a British work permit. However, there was an even more important test he had to pass: The Arsene Wenger test. Campbell had to make a positive enough impression on Wenger to earn inclusion in the Arsenal squad.
He did that. At the 2014 World Cup, he was one of the surprise stars. After scoring with a thumping volley in the opening game, Campbell went on to terrorise defences with his willing running and intricate skill.
Suitably impressed, Wenger decided that Campbell would form part of Arsenal’s new-look attack for 2014/15. Campbell jetted in to London, overjoyed at the prospect of finally making an impression in the Premier League.
So far, it’s proved something of a struggle. The warning signs began as early as the Community Shield, when he was given just seven minutes to shine as a substitute for Aaron Ramsey. He was since been an unused substitute for the games against Crystal Palace, Besiktas (twice) and Leicester. His only competitive cameo has been a 17-minute display as Arsenal chased the game against Everton.
That in itself would be concerning. However, the indications are that the situation could be about to get worse for Campbell. When Olivier Giroud was injured at Goodison Park, he could be forgiven for thinking that might mean more chances coming his way. Not so, as Arsene Wenger has responded to the setback by signing £16 million Danny Welbeck from Manchester United.
Like Campbell, Welbeck is capable of playing both as a centre-forward and on the flank. His price tag and experience ensures he will immediately usurp Campbell in the pecking order, meaning the Costa Rican may find it hard to even come by a place on the sub’s bench.
As if that weren’t enough, Welbeck’s arrival ought to be swiftly followed by the return to fitness of Theo Walcott. That’s yet another quick, versatile attacker who is likely to be selected ahead of Campbell. The door appears to be closing on Campbell almost as soon as it was opened.
The player himself seems aware of the problem. His representative Joaquim Batica spent transfer deadline day trying to arrange Campbell a move to Benfica, and was frustrated by Arsenal’s unwillingness to let him go. Batica told Portuguese paper O Jogo (h/t Daily Mail):
Benfica fought until the last minute to sign Campbell but the move didn’t happen because, in the last hour, Arsenal decided to keep him.
Wenger says he did not want to sell him. But if he is not in his plans, then why not allow him to leave?
The answer to Batica’s question is that, burnt by the Giroud injury, Arsene Wenger wants to ensure he has the requisite depth to deal with any eventuality. That doesn’t change the fact that, if Arsenal remain free of injuries, Campbell is going to be little more than a bit-part player.
At present, Campbell’s eyes will be firmly fixed on Arsenal’s Capital One Cup clash with Southampton on September 23. That’s likely to be the first opportunity he gets to start a competitive match for Arsenal. He must impress then if he’s to stand any chance of becoming a fixture in the first team.
If chances to strut his stuff continue to be hard to come by, Campbell and Batica may be attempting to resurrect that Benfica deal come January.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2014/15 season. Follow him on Twitter here.