Ahead of the eagerly anticipated North London Derby with Tottenham Hotspur, Sol Campbell was always going to be in the media’s focus but the veteran has been forthright, coming out with some strong sentiments for his current teammates to consider.
In the wake of the comprehensive defeat to Barcelona, Campbell posed some difficult questions to the young squad: “Everyone here has to learn and be honest about it… to ask where they want their careers going. You’ve got to look at yourself. This is a different level but you have got to appreciate what they are doing and raise your level.” Having been reintroduced to the club to add experience and depth to the squad, Campbell’s comments are certainly deep and meaningful and draw upon experience from his previous trophy-laden stint at the club. That the comments came out in the wake of the Gunners’ Champions League exit is not so much an indictment, as a warning.
The manner of the side’s exit from the Champions League is not as catastrophic as has been portrayed in some areas of the media, with the Gunners’ threadbare squad rallying to severely test the Catalans. They also have the dubious honour of having drawn a truly mesmerising performance from the world’s best player, as Lionel Messi’s four goals decided the destination of the tie. With so much experience of the top levels of both club and international football, Campbell’s comments are highly unlikely to be ill considered and reactionary. In fact, he is far more likely to have observed the mood and attitudes of the players in the camp, and defeat to Barca merely provided the opportune moment to voice his thoughts. Sol’s stature within the camp means he bears a certain responsibility in relation to the younger players – a fact reflected by the measured tone of his words. Rather than naming individuals, or being critical, he has sought to provoke a positive reaction – not by asking questions of his teammates, but encouraging them to ask questions of themselves.
The result, and more particularly the manner of it, has brought a contemplative and retrospective mood upon the side and, as Wenger anticipated when engineering the veteran’s return, Campbell has tried to guide the players through this difficult period. The success of the Catalans’ pressing game and the inability of the Londoners to match their intensity was attributed to a lack of desire, an attitude reinforced by remembering the high profile defeats to their rivals earlier this season. Yet, despite the injury problems and heavy media criticism, they have pulled together to mount a serious title challenge. Their attitude of striving in the face of adversity has served the team well so far this term, with numerous last-minute winners meaning they maintain their title challenge right down to the wire. Another test of character comes in the derby match on Wednesday, as Spurs – who suffered a similarly demoralising defeat in the FA Cup at the hands of Portsmouth – will also seek to overcome adversity with three points in the league.
It is not only Campbell that is pensive, as the manager appears to be similarly introspective in the Bar