Campbell relishes revisiting Arsenal

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The Independent Football

He may not have borrowed Edith Piaf's most popular refrain, but Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger made it clear yesterday that he had no regrets about the former England defender Sol Campbell's departure from Arsenal at the end of last season.

It was, he said, an inevitability from the moment that Campbell, stormed out of Highbury at half-time on 1 February as Arsenal were heading towards a 2-3 defeat by West Ham United. "No there is no regret [for me]," said Wenger, who meets Campbell again, for the first time since he left, when Portsmouth visit the Emirates Stadium this afternoon.

"He gave us outstanding years here - don't forget that he won two championships with us and was unbeaten for 49 games with us so I cannot be surprised that he is doing well now. He went through a difficult period in his life last year - and that can happen to anybody - but because he is strong, he came out of it again and I am not at all surprised that he is playing well."

To mischievous suggestions that Harry Redknapp may use Campbell as a makeshift striker on his return to face Arsenal today, Wenger scoffed before revealing he was both sympathetic and pragmatic in his handling of the Campbell dilemma last spring.

He said he had not expected Campbell's problems to blow up into a personal crisis. "You never know completely what is going on in the head of everybody," he said. "He had just a moment in the spring when he had problems to sort out and his head was not on the game. Sometimes they need these kind of breaks to recover, to refresh and focus on the game again and that is what happened to Sol."

Wenger declined to say if Campbell faced "football or personal" problems. "I tried to understand what was going on because, when you look at Sol Campbell and the number of games he played for the national team, and for us and for Tottenham, and what happened last year, then you know this [trouble] can be only because he has problems. It is not a repeated action in his life. It was a one-off."

As he prepared to meet his former Arsenal team-mates, Campbell described his move to Fratton Park as the catalyst for his renaissance. "I am happy but there's still a long way to go," he said. "I'm looking forward to the game against Arsenal. Of course, it is a special game, but a circumstance came up there for me and I had to deal with it."

Campbell denied that there was any agreement with Wenger to go abroad, adding: "I just needed a fresh start and Harry looked after me as he looks after all his players. It is one of his major things. There is a good spirit here and I think all the players will tell you that.

"He's charismatic, a great manager who has never forgotten how tough it can be playing matches. He also realises that senior players know their own bodies and don't have to be trained-out. But, yes, it took a lot to persuade me to come here. It was, and is still, definitely a challenge. You have to look after yourself if you don't have a big squad like the ones I've been in before because one or two injuries and we can struggle.

"Me? I've missed only one match - with a stomach bug. The lads are fantastic. We are all helping each other out. Sometimes with teams outside London or other big cities you get that close-knit community. It's good and results have proved it."

Harry Redknapp said: "From the moment Sol came he gave the place a lift. He's a winner but he also wants to enjoy his football and he had a spell at Arsenal where he wasn't happy. So I said 'come down to Portsmouth and enjoy yourself again' and that is what he's doing.

"He gives us a presence, just as people like David James do. The place is nothing like they are used to but it has a family atmosphere about it and they relish that.

"Sol's been a great signing and I think it is mutual. He's had all the abuse going back to Spurs a few times but I just hope he will get a great ovation there."