Arsene Wenger has revealed that Joel Campbell's performance in the do-or-die game against Olympiacos in the Champions League was what convinced him of his ability to play at the top level for Arsenal. The manager has said he is one of the reasons the Gunners are still in the elite European competition as they await a last 16 tie against Barcelona on 23 February.
The north London club faced a must-win clash against their Greek opponents and the Costa Rican put in a virtuoso performance to help Arsenal record a 3-0 win to qualify second in the group behind leaders Bayern Munich. The French manager was impressed with Campbell's ability to perform under severe pressure and has since handed the forward a number of chances with the first-team squad.
The 23-year-old attacker joined the Emirates Stadium outfit in 2011, but lack of a work permit meant that he was not allowed to feature for the Gunners until the 2014/15 season. He spent four seasons on loan with FC Lorient, Real Betis, Olympiacos and finally the second-half of last season with Villarreal.
He has struggled to break into the first-team on a consistent basis, but the manager was firm that he will remain with Arsenal this season despite not being high on the pecking order for a place in the starting XI. Campbell, however, has won the manager's confidence with his teamwork and is now making regular appearances either from the start or from the bench, notching up 18 appearances in all competitions thus far this campaign.
'Can play under pressure'
"I thought always the attitude was there. But in a game where we had a knife on the throat, he turned up with something special. It was great teamwork and a pass for Olivier Giroud on a second goal that was massive for us. That's when I thought, 'He can play under pressure as well'. That is important for us," Wenger said, as quoted by the Mirror.
"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? Let's keep him until January. It is just down to your last performance, 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," the Gunners' boss added.
"What is very interesting in Campbell's case is that he looks like he has gained more confidence and authority in his game. Also 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. He works hard for the team," the French manager explained.
The Costa Rican international is contracted to the club until the summer of 2018, and according to the Daily Telegraph, Arsenal are keen on handing him an extension to keep him at the Emirates Stadium for the foreseeable future.