The Sol man
James Dall takes a look at the pros and cons of Arsenal re-signing defender Sol Campbell.
Last Updated: 13/01/10 10:35am
With veteran defender Sol Campbell seemingly set to re-sign for Arsenal, skysports.com's James Dall takes a look at the pros and cons of such a deal.
As the majority of Arsenal fans will know, Campbell boasts a wealth of pedigree. At international level, the centre-back has earned 73 caps for England, playing at two World Cups. During his time at Tottenham, Campbell lifted the League Cup in 1999 while at Arsenal he won the Premier League twice and the FA Cup three times. Then at Portsmouth he was again an FA Cup winner in 2008. Few of Arsenal's current crop boast silverware experience, so there is an argument that Campbell's knack for being victorious could help to inspire Arsenal's youngsters while his knowledge of how to last the distance could also be invaluable. Furthermore, Campbell can help pass on his tricks of the trade to the current centre-halves at the club, with Thomas Vermaelen undoubtedly a willing learner at 23-years-old. Arsenal's weakness is defending, so perhaps Campbell can assist here, even during training sessions. Indeed, much credit was given to Martin Keown for his coaching role when Arsenal reached the 2006 Champions League final - a game that Campbell scored in.
Campbell has captained England, Spurs and Pompey - so it is clear managers have seen he has the ability to lead a side. Cesc Fabregas, just 22 years of age, is of course the Gunners' current skipper, and, while of course the Spaniard appears to be doing a fine job, another voice in the dressing room is always welcome. Indeed, giving him the armband could even do more worse than good to Fabregas' game. Maybe one of the reasons Wenger overlooked Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira during this January transfer window was that he envisaged Campbell coming in and doing a similar role of war veteran, telling stories of days gone by, his role for the Invincibles and generally inspiring the group.
Competition for places
Vermaelen and William Gallas are of course Arsenal's current first-choice centre-back pairing, but behind that the Gunners look thin. Johan Djourou is crocked, Philippe Senderos' future appears to lie elsewhere, Mikael Silvestre increases most fans' blood pressure and, while Alex Song can play there, it would be criminal to move one of the club's top performers this season out of position. If Campbell is serious about making a "big, big contribution", then he will need to play. That will mean impressing in training and in turn exerting pressure on Wenger to pick him, which is no bad thing. It would be human nature for Vermaelen or Gallas to become complacent with no real worry of being replaced, so Campbell's mere presence on the substitutes' bench could be beneficial.
Backs against the wall
Campbell's age means no matter how hard he trains his pace is on the decline. However, physically he still looks powerful and therefore he should remain towering in the air. For those games in which Arsenal come up against long ball after long ball, Campbell could play an important role. Even when Arsenal are defending a lead - something they have been suspect at - and their defensive line drops deeper, throwing Campbell on could be an excellent option for Wenger: someone to bark orders at the backline, someone to be no-nonsense.
Campbell is a free agent and reports suggest that he will sign a deal that is performance-related and will last until the end of the season. Wenger is partial to a bargain, and this would be the first time he has re-signed a former player.
It's a World Cup year
Granted, Campbell for England at the 2010 World Cup is an outside chance, however it is fair to say that the state of Fabio Capello's centre of defence at present is iffy. We all know how players tend to up their game in a World Cup year - is it a coincidence that five of the top 10 Premier League goalscorers this term are English? - so therein lies added incentive for Campbell, who surely feels he has a point to prove.
Arsenal's tactics are based on a high defensive line. Gallas is still quick across the turf while Vermaelen has proved he is speedy over long distances. If we take Senderos as an example here, often the Swiss was found out when having to push up, his turning circle let him down. Coupled with this, Campbell has not played at the highest level in quite some time. He has not kicked a competitive football since 19th September 2009, and that was in League Two with Notts County. Prior to this, he spent three years at a struggling Portsmouth side, who seemingly deemed him surplus to requirements last summer. However, and while this sentence should not really sit below the 'against' title, Wenger's training regime is notoriously scrupulous. When a player is physically on a downward spiral, the Frenchman is not afraid to move him on - see Vieira or Thierry Henry. So this leads you to believe that Wenger has been hugely impressed by the condition Campbell has maintained.
It was ironic that Campbell made his Arsenal return against West Ham reserves, for do you recall what happened when he played the Hammers' first string for the Gunners on 1st February 2006? For those of you who need prompting, Campbell started for the North London club at Highbury and his side found themselves 2-1 down at half-time, with the stopper culpable for both goals conceded. Campbell did not return to the pitch for the second half, in fact he was seen leaving the stadium at the break. That incident of alleged abandonment during a time of need and character has not sat well with some Gunners fans to this day. Added to this is the bizarre set of events that unfolded at Meadow Lane. Eyebrows were raised when the defender put pen-to-paper on a five-year deal with the Magpies, and his stay was short-lived. After playing just one game for Notts County - a match they lost 2-1 to Morecambe - Campbell soon had his contract cancelled by mutual consent. One of course can only speculate as to the reason(s) behind his exit, but again this sequence of events leaves question marks over the psychological state of the player.
The only option?
The case for this being a bargain is valid, but can Arsenal afford to cut corners? What if the intensity of the Premier League is too much for Campbell and then either Vermaelen or Gallas sustain injuries? The gamble will have failed and in a campaign that presents a fantastic opportunity for Arsenal to win the title Wenger will once again become to regret not getting out his chequebook. Another £10million on another Vermaelen might be wiser. Then again, the market is barely moving. Such a deal is easier said than done.
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