Realistic Expectations for Joel Campbell at Arsenal in 2015/16

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2015

Making his debut Arsenal's Joel Campbell competes for the ball with Benfica's Maxi Pereira, right, during the Emirates Cup soccer match between between Arsenal and Benfica at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium in London, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. With the news that Danny Welbeck will be absent for a number of months after undergoing surgery on a knee-cartilage problem, Joel Campbell has suddenly jumped up the pecking order at Arsenal. This, surely, is his final chance to stake a claim for a place in the first-team squad.

To be brutal, it’s something of a surprise that Campbell is still with Arsenal in 2015/16. After making just four Premier League appearances* for the club, and failing to muster a single shot in the process, he was loaned to Villarreal last January as part of the deal that brought Gabriel Paulista to north London. Although he signed a new contract with the Gunners at the same time, that was largely seen as an insurance policy to guarantee a fee upon his inevitable departure.

Rich Schultz/Associated Press

However, speaking earlier this summer, Arsene Wenger insisted he was eager to keep Campbell at the Emirates Stadium. He told Arsenal.com:

At the moment he is here and personally I would like to keep him. I will have to sit down with Joel because I rate him highly as a player and personally if he stays here I am very happy.

Nevertheless, it was still a bit of a shock to see Campbell remain an Arsenal player beyond the transfer deadline—until, that is, news of Welbeck’s set-back broke. With the England international out of action, Campbell is needed as the squad’s third-choice centre-forward.

Campbell can fill similar positions to Welbeck, playing through the middle or in either of the wide positions. Wenger seems to favour using him as an inverted right-winger who can cut inside on to his powerful left foot.

It’s unlikely that he’ll start many Premier League games, but his chance to impress is likely to come in the domestic cups. Last season, his progress was hindered by Arsenal’s failure to make significant headway in the Capital One Cup. With a tricky trip to White Hart Lane on the agenda this year, Campbell could encounter similar frustrations.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

While the rise to prominence of the almost-discarded Francis Coquelin has taught Arsenal fans never to write off a player’s chances, it’s very hard to foresee how Campbell will make an impression on the first XI. The wide areas are infamously congested at Arsenal, with central midfield players like Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere also forced to battle it out for space on the flanks. At centre-forward, even if Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott are simultaneously unavailable, Wenger is more likely to shift Alexis Sanchez infield than play the Costa Rican through the middle.

Campbell made a minimal impact at Villarreal, scoring just once in 16 appearances. If he is afforded the chance to shine at Arsenal, he must be significantly more efficient.

According to the Sun (h/t the Express), Arsenal are confident that Welbeck could return to action before the new year. Once he does, Campbell will be relegated to the reserves once again. With such a short window in which to impress, his Arsenal reprieve may prove to be merely temporary. Realistically, it will be very difficult for Campbell to do anything other than make up the numbers between now and January.

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout 2015/16. Follow him on Twitter here.

*all stats via Squawka