Club Focus – Arsenal – Gunners to take the Campbell gamble

After the FA upheld Thomas Vermaelen’s suspension during the week, Arsene Wenger announced that Sol Campbell would play against Birmingham at the weekend, despite Wednesday’s visit of Barcelona looming large on the horizon. This will not be the first time that Arsene Wenger has made a gamble concerning the defender.

Campbell’s return was the shock signing of the January transfer window, having left under a cloud almost four years ago – largely effectuated by his now infamous walk-out during a match against West Ham. Undoubtedly a top class defender in his prime, significant question marks were raised about both his ability to perform at the top level after making the decision to join Notts County, and more significantly his mental state – having left the League Two club as swiftly as he had arrived. His personal life and mentality were brought into question as a result of this and when placed in the context of his previous London-based troubles, the outlook didn’t look too promising for the former England man.

In hindsight, all his capture has done is to increase Wenger’s already substantial reputation as a shrewd judge of a player’s ability. His re-signing has been an important component in the run that has seen Arsenal continue to compete strongly on two fronts as the side approach April. He has added depth and vast experience to the backline, helping the side to cope in the continuing absence of William Gallas, and now with the suspension of the previously ever-present Vermaelen. Wenger has always maintained faith in the defender’s ability, but still reduced the element of risk in his gamble by assessing the player at close quarters at Arsenal’s London Colney training ground. As such, the gamble was carefully calculated and with the Gunners approaching another key run of fixtures in their season, the manager has taken another carefully calculated gamble in selecting him to face Birmingham City on Saturday: “I will pick Sol for the next game; the next game is the only important one… We fight the whole season to be in there and this is the priority.”

Le Professeur’s faith now extends from not only his ability and mentality, but to his stamina. The Blues have impressed this season under Alex McLeish’s stewardship and will provide a stern test for Arsenal before they host the Spanish Inquisition as the Champions League holders come to town. Wenger looks increasingly likely to start Campbell in both games, but with one eye on the Bar

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