Sunday 25 February 2018

Campbell’s positive effect forcing Wenger into rethink


Ashley Rudd

ALL season the talk had been about Arsene Wenger’s youth policy. Now, at the campaign’s close, all the talk is of what lessons a 35-year-old defender has taught the Arsenal manager.

Sol Campbell drifted into the Emirates Stadium like a Clint Eastwood character returning to his old ranch and, ignoring the gibes that he was too old and too cynical to be of any use, has impressed Wenger to the point that he suggests the defender could go to South Africa this summer for the World Cup.

More tellingly, Campbell has made Wenger realise he could do with a bit more experience.

Does he accept he should redress his squad in favour of older, calmer personalities such as Campbell? “Definitely,” Wenger said. “In the dressing-room as well he’s been very good; he’s done a very good job for me. He’s a strange guy because when he’s focused, sometimes he can be very detached, but when he’s in with you, he’s 100pc, not 99.”

As for the World Cup, Wenger said: “I just see that many centre-backs are injured so why not? He’s got the experience and it’s up to (Fabio) Capello to decide. You compare him today in the Premier League with the other centre backs and he doesn’t suffer in the comparison.”

Wenger was not alone in spotting Campbell’s potential for an international comeback. It was hard to believe that anyone involved in this drab encounter felt in the mood to chat, yet Kolo Toure approached Campbell once the whistle had blown on eight minutes of added time and admiringly told him that he could feature at the World Cup.

“For me he is the best player for Arsenal at the moment,” the Manchester City and former Arsenal centre-back said. “I am very happy for him. He is a really good man. I told him I am really surprised at what he has done; to come back and play Champions League games and do so well.”

With Arsenal struggling to secure acceptable terms with William Gallas – “We are not sure at all that he will stay,” Wenger said – Campbell’s signature could even become a priority.

“He’s not desperate to stay,” Wenger said. “If he sets himself a target, he’s an unbelievable soldier. Sol needs a target and a focus, and at the moment I am not sure what he wants to do. He marries in July, so maybe he will go on holiday for a year!”

Certainly, dour games such as this will encourage Campbell, who signed only until the end of this season, to take stock.

Just as is the case for Campbell, the coming weeks could prove pitoval for Faroe Islander Gunnar Nielsen after Shay Given dislocated a shoulder as he stretched to deal with a shot from Abou Diaby.

Nielsen, whose last league outing was while on loan at Wrexham last season, has suddenly been given the responsibility of guiding Manchester City through three games that will determine whether they play in next season’s Champions League.

With Joe Hart on a season-long loan at Birmingham and Stuart Taylor recovering from knee surgery, Nielsen will get a chance to aid City’s fight for fourth, with games against Villa and Spurs likely to determine their fate.

City have spent £200m on players yet their hopes rest on a 23 year-old who could not get a game on loan at Motherwell. The 6ft 5in Nielsen said: “It was an unbelievable feeling afterwards, but when I did come on it was just so intense – it was a high pressure game and I had to stay focused. I like to think I’m calm under pressure.

“The Faroe Islands is only a small country, 50,000 people, and I think they will be very proud. They know I’ve been trying for years.”

City captain Toure, who was given warm applause on his first return to Arsenal, spoke of the team's confidence in Nielsen. “We saw a young goalkeeper come on and he did really well. As a team we will protect him and try to help him. And try to make him really confident for the three games coming,” Toure said. “He is a hard worker. He is always really focused. He is very intelligent and he saves lots of goals in training.”

City are a hugely ambitious club but you would never have known it from the way they lined up at the Emirates. Fourth place was theirs for the taking following Tottenham's defeat at Manchester United yet Mancini was evidently only concerned with sneaking a point to keep City in touching distance of Spurs before the clubs meet at Eastlands on May 5 for the game that could well decide who claims that all-important and muchdesired final Champions League place.

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Fabianksi; Sagna, Campbell, Silvestre, Clichy; Diaby, Song; Walcott (Bendtner, 68), Nasri, Rosicky (Eboué, 68); Van Persie. Substitutes not used: Mannone (gk), Eduardo, Vela, Traoré, Eastmond.

Manchester City (4-3-2-1): Given (Nielsen, 73); Zabaleta, Touré, Kompany, Bridge (Richards, 27); De Jong, Vieira (Adebayor, 52), Barry; A Johnson, Bellamy; Tevez. Substitutes not used: Onuoha, Ireland, Wright-Phillips, Santa Cruz.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).

Booked: Arsenal Silvestre, Diaby, Song, Van Persie. Man City Bellamy, Zabaleta.

Man of the Match: Campbell.

Attendance: 60,086.

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