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Why Arsenal need Joel Campbell not to be latest teen flop

Can Joel Campbell break the mould at Arsenal?

Ever since the success of Nicolas Anelka, the place has become a graveyard for talented teenage strikers, wherever they've arrived from. Gilles Sunu, Carlos Vela, Nicklas Bendtner, there's even growing concerns over Wellington at Alcoyano - the list goes on and on. So can Joel Campbell be any different?

Currently on-loan with Lorient, the teenage Costa Rican has shown plenty of promise in his first season in Europe. But Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, warns he isn't quite ready to compete at Premier League level.

"His talent is undeniable, but he still fails to express it regularly during games," admits a frustrated Wenger. "He still needs to toughen up for this level."

Wenger is wanting to see greater determination from Campbell.

"He's showed talent, but he still lacks maturity and consistency in his game. Professional football is also a profession, and that's what he has yet to learn."

Campbell was a big fish in a small pond in Costa Rica. His move from Deportivo Saprissa was celebrated by Costa Rican football as one of their greatest ever transfers and Campbell admits he's had to battle to adjust to the strict requirements demanded by Lorient coach Christian Gourcuff.

"This year at Lorient, is like being at school. I've learned a lot and I've really improved from all points of view since I arrived," says Campbell.

"I had a hard time adjusting to the playing system. I've found it hard. That's why I was left out for a long time. I was not at all used to that.

"In my country or for the national team, I have more freedom. In Costa Rica, we play 4-3-3 and I played in attack. Here I am required to play on the flanks. For the national team, I'm alone up front."

Playing in France has been a shock for Campbell.

"It is a very difficult championship, with little space to use when you have the ball. The defenders are all huge and beefy - and as quick as me.

"Even though I have not played all the time, I do not doubt myself, I'll learn to be even stronger, I trust in my abilities.

"When you're young, you do not always play, that's normal."

But perhaps Wenger's concerns about Campbell's approach to training is now getting through.

"Here, you train to play, it's a good experience," says the 19 year-old.

Gourcuff keeps Wenger up-to-date on Campbell's progress and concedes the youngster is a work in progress.

"The potential exists, it is his way of understanding the game which needs to improve. There are gaps," concedes Gourcuff.

Campbell knows he must prove himself at Lorient if he is ever to pull on an Arsenal shirt.

"For me, Lorient is acting as a school for European football. There is more creativity and freedom in South America. Here, tactical systems are quite rigid, with compact blocks which are difficult to penetrate."

But he is also defiant: "I don't have to prove anything to anyone, they know what I can do."

Helping Campbell is his mother, who moved in with Joel when he first arrived in Lorient.

"She takes care of everything for me at home. All I have to do is worry about my football," he adds.

There's a lot riding on Campbell's success with Arsenal - particularly at Deportivo Saprissa, where they hope to build a strategic alliance with the Gunners.

Deportivo president Juan Carlos Rojas confirmed at the time of selling Campbell that talks had opened about forming a partnership with the London giants.

Rojas is understood to have driven the deal hard from his end, particularly after Campbell's father, Humberto, hesitated when talks initially opened with Arsenal after last year's U20 World Championships.

"Myself and other representatives of the club have been to London to consolidate the details of this relationship, which includes close coordination in the youth divisions," said Rojas.

"Joel's transfer is a historic moment for Costa Rica and Deportivo Saprissa. We expect him to have a bright future in England."

With a return to Lorient next season now likely, Rojas and Campbell's supporters are banking on the youngster heeding the advice from those around him. After so many flops, Arsenal's international scouting division needs the Costa Rican to live up to the potential they spotted last year.

Chris Beattie
About the author

Chris Beattie

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