Arsene Wenger says it was Joel Campbell’s performance against Olympiacos which convinced him the forward can be a key player for Arsenal.
Campbell scored his third goal of the season in Saturday’s FA Cup third-round victory over Sunderland having established himself firmly in the first-team picture at Emirates Stadium.
The Costa Rica international originally joined the Gunners in 2011 but was farmed out on several loans with his future at the club seemingly becoming more and more bleak.
That was until Wenger opted against sending him out once again at the start of this season and, after injuries to the likes of Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Campbell seized his opportunity with both hands.
Asked if he has been surprised by the 23-year-old, Wenger replied: “Yes.
“You want to be surprised by the quality of your players and where he surprises you is in the intensity of his teamwork.
“I have the choice on the flank between many players and he is one of the players who has come in at a very sensitive period.
“I flat-refused to let him go because I saw something in him that gives you belief, because of his attitude.
“It is true he had players in front of him and you think ‘can you block a player like that?’ But he was four times out on loan. He came back and you think ‘do I let him go out on loan again?'”
Olympiacos game a turning point for Campbell
Campbell may have been eyeing a move away in an attempt to gain regular football, but Wenger now hopes the former Deportivo Saprissa man is settled and revealed it was his performance in the must-win Champions League clash with Olympiacos in December that completely won him over.
“I thought always the attitude was there,” he said.
“But after Olympiacos, in a game where we had a knife on the throat, he turned up with something special – great teamwork and a pass for (Olivier) Giroud on the second goal that was massive for us. And then I thought ‘he can play under pressure as well, which is important for us’.
“What is very interesting in Campbell’s case is that he looks like he has gained more confidence and authority in his game and in the final third he is a dangerous player and he has shown that.
“When you look at the player and the number of goals he scores and the number of assists, on that front you must say he has been very positive and he works hard for the team.”