Campbell aims to make up for lost time on Arsenal return

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The return of the Prodigal Sol is all but complete, with Sol Campbell on the verge of completing a remarkable comeback at Arsenal at the age of 35. The defensive colossus is not quite returning with his tail between his legs, but there was more than a hint of penitence in his comments after a 45-minute audition with Arsenal reserves at West Ham on Tuesday night.

Campbell spoke of his regret at leaving the club in 2006, in the wake of the club's defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League final in Paris. Campbell had scored the opening goal before two late Barça goals consigned Arsène Wenger's side to defeat.

Campbell then made it so clear he wished to play elsewhere that Arsenal agreed to let the former England defender terminate his contract. He intimated he wanted to play abroad, but ended up on the south coast at Portsmouth. Campbell won the FA Cup in 2008 but as he spoke after his first outing in Arsenal colours for over three years, it was clear that in his heart he had remained a Gunner.

Asked if it was an error to leave Arsenal, Campbell replied: "Yeah. Sometimes when you go away, you look back and I realised what a top club Arsenal are. OK I won the FA Cup, which was not too bad, but the quality of football was different at other clubs. Being out of the game has helped revitalise me. I feel really fresh and I have a craving to get the ball."

Campbell started training at Arsenal three months ago. He needed to get fit again after walking out on Notts County one month into a £12.5m five-year contract, and his former club were happy to oblige. It also gave Wenger a chance to assess Campbell's fitness and motivation, and in recent weeks the centre-half has impressed the coaches with his dedication.

The first indication that Wenger might want to sign him as cover came three weeks ago. A deal until the end of the season, worth around £20,00 a week, is on the table and an agreement is likely to be announced today.

Campbell said: "I had other offers but Arsène told me about the deal and I said, 'Let's make it happen.' Arsène is a very clever man when it comes to football. I think he saw my determination. It is an honour and I have to repay him." Campbell believes he will get a first-team chance, possibly in the FA Cup tie at Stoke City on 24 January.

The return of Campbell is hardly the signing that Arsenal fans have been demanding. However it makes some sense in financially straitened times. At least Wenger will no longer be able to trot out his well-used excuse that his team would have won but for their lack of experience, not if the 35-year-old Campbell is on the team-sheet again.

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