Joel Campbell has had something of a topsy turvy few games.
Against Dinamo Zagreb he was a live wire, making one very smart assist and generally looking a likely suspect for anything good Arsenal produced.
By contrast, when he came on against Norwich, the Costa Rican looked all at sea, running up blind alleys and generally struggling to have any impact on a game which Arsenal were making terribly tough work of.
It was a show of confidence from the manager to return Campbell to the starting lineup, yet the early signs were more Norwich than Dinamo Zagreb. A couple of runs ended in Van Aanholt’s pocket and some heavy touches directly caused the poor ensuing passes, as Oxlade-Chamberlain looked by far the brighter of the wingers.
A simple switch of wings around the half hour mark was all it took to change up Joel’s fortunes. It set the scene for the goal a few minutes later, which triggered a massive improvement in Campbell’s performance.
Quick feet from Giroud saw him find a teammate for what felt like the first time in 33 minutes of play. His lay-off set Ozil free with time to pick out his man, and he made no mistake. One touch to tuck the ball out of his feet, one to play it in behind Spurs loanee DeAndre Yedlin and let Campbell loose.
It was a perfectly timed run, and one confident swing of his left peg later, Joel had despatched the ball through and past the despairing Pantilimon. A much needed goal for Arsenal, and moreover our young winger.
Throughout the game, Campbell’s work rate could not be faulted in both directions. In attack, he made runs off the ball, both in anticipation of a pass but also in selfless circumstances to create room for teammates.
In the other direction, he ably assisted Bellerin and Monreal when required and it was noticeable that he was able to turn over possession one on one with his opponent in the Sunderland half on a number of separate occasions.
Perhaps most promisingly, once again he looked to play with his head up, making better decisions as his confidence grew. The longer the game ran, the more our Costa Rican looked the increasingly dominant of the Arsenal wide men, and with Oxlade-Chamberlain one of his direct competitors for a starting berth, it was good to see Joel really stake his own claim.
I’ve written recently on Campbell’s inconsistency of performance, and against Sunderland we saw another great example of how good he can be when he’s firing. He’s clearly very talented, he’s got some fire in his belly, and in this spell of injuries he offers an alternative source of creativity – just as long as he’s getting the love and minutes he needs to feed his confidence.
He showed with his sublime assist against Dinamo that he can create chances, and he showed against Sunderland that he can finish them. Despite the usual negative bandwagons, he’s certainly a decent player to have in the squad. The challenge now is to make sure that he starts to deliver the live ammo more frequently and we see less of the Norwich blanks.
And of course, the celebration still needs some work too, so let’s hope he gets lots of practice, starting at a ground he’s very familiar with after spending a year on loan there: the Karaiskakis Stadium.