Campbell's hit-and-miss affair

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The Independent Online

It had a neat ring to it, "gamble on Campbell", even if Arsène Wenger had insisted that the risk involved in bringing back his England centre-half for a match of last night's magnitude was minimal. Certainly, the man himself had no doubts about returning for only a second game in four months since that extraordinary walk-out against West Ham United with half a day's work done and his team-mates in trouble.

Philippe Senderos' knee injury offered the opportunity to impress on Sven Goran Eriksson that he would be ready come June, having claimed that he needed just "a couple of first-class games" for the club before the World Cup.

Whether that referred to the quality of the opposition or of his performances was not spelt out. "Everyone has confidence in him," Wenger had said, reminding us all that the man-mountain was a fixture in the famous 49-game unbeaten run.

But that was at the peak of his game, in the sort of form that earned him recognition in All-Star squads at three major tournaments - 1998, 2002 and 2004. Last night, however, he was as far away from those levels as the town of Villarreal is from Islington.

If the first solid touches of the night - confident defensive headers both - ought to have settled Campbell in, they did not have the desired effect. Twice, soon after those incidents, he was not close enough to prevent Guillermo Franco getting in a shot which fortunately did not disturb Jens Lehmann.

As for attacking, there was little occasion for that. Venturing forward at Arsenal's few corners in search of improvement to his modest record of 10 goals in five seasons, Campbell was no closer to success than either his defensive partner, Kolo Touré, or any of Arsenal's more regular scorers.

The real work had to be done at the other end and the alarming pattern of play continued after the interval, when Franco twice beat Campbell to crosses from the right, heading narrowly wide each time.

The arrival of Jose Mari as a third forward maintained the pressure and the defence was in a mess again when, with Lehmann out of his goal, Forlan shot over the empty goal.

So it went until the glorious relief of Lehmann's 88th-minute penalty save. Sulzeer Jeremiah Campbell may yet prove the prophets of doom to be false ones. On last night's evidence, he has much to do.

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