They have not yet sent out the search parties for Sol Campbell, but Arsène Wenger said yesterday that if the England defender wants help then he will have to make contact with the club he walked out on at half-time during the defeat to West Ham United on Wednesday night.
The Arsenal manager admitted that he does not know the whereabouts of Campbell, or what problem affects him, as the future of England's most senior player was thrown into further doubt five months before the World Cup finals.
Wenger has said that he will tolerate Campbell taking a break and although there have been no guarantees from the player himself that he will return next week the Arsenal manager has not seen him since he left Highbury on Wednesday evening. Yesterday, Wenger defended the character of the 31-year-old but could shed no light on whether a player who has played every minute of every England match in the last three major tournaments still believed that he had a future in the game.
The claim made by Campbell's team-mate Robert Pires on his French radio show that the defender's problems were fundamentally "personal" - as opposed to the disastrous on-field performance on Wednesday that saw him culpable for two goals - was supported by one friend of the player last night. According to some of those who know Campbell well, his whereabouts are still a mystery.
With an Arsenal team that has taken just 17 points from the last 30 and goes to Birmingham City today sixth in the Premiership, Wenger has enough problems before he considers the furore around Campbell who he said is currently "not contactable". The decision to substitute Campbell at half-time on Wednesday Wenger claimed for himself, although given the player's own misgivings it did not appear as if the Arsenal manager had much of a choice.
Treading carefully with his answers, Wenger said that he neither knew the nature of Campbell's problem, nor was he even sure whether the player would be back on Monday. "Frankly, really, sincerely, I don't know," was his response to the question of Campbell's difficulties - although earlier when asked how serious these difficulties were he answered: "Depends what you consider serious or not".
"The only thing you can do is accept that every human being responds differently to problems," Wenger said. "All we can do as a club is to support people when they need our help. Of course the lack of form is always a concern for a manager because you feel at first responsible for that as well. But you never know is it down to physical problems or ... sometimes it's just a bad patch like the guy who plays tennis the whole year - he doesn't win every tournament, he has good and bad periods.
"I feel he's a very honest person. I like him very much as a person because he's honest, straight, not malicious, just a guy I rate highly as a human being. Every human being has the right to privacy and you try to respect that. Sometimes when players come out with their private life you try to support them, but you have to respect as well that some don't like it."
Campbell was in the midst of, his manager said, "a bit of a difficult period" although he maintained he was "not worried" about the player. The most telling response from a manager whose strong relationship with his players has been the cornerstone of his success was when he admitted that, when it came to counselling Campbell, "you can only help people if they get in touch."
Although one of the most unassuming players in the England squad, Campbell, who controversially left Tottenham for Arsenal on a free transfer in 2001, has been the subject of lurid rumours about his personal life. Campbell's brother John was jailed in June last year for GBH after retaliating following taunts that his famous younger sibling was gay. Campbell was also forced to admit paternity of a son in 2004 by an ex-girlfriend who alleged that he paid the minimum £1,300 maintenance a month.
Unmarried, he has been linked to a number of women including tennis player Martina Hingis, the former Wimbledon champion who has recently made a comeback, as well as the singer Dido, the interior designer Kelly Hoppen and the models D J Sassy and Tamsin Proctor. He has suggested that he might pursue a career in acting when he finishes playing football but with a contract that pays him £50,000-a-week until 2009 that has not, up until now, been an immediate concern.
Among the England team cliques, Campbell is regarded as something of a loner and his treatment by Sven Goran Eriksson at the end of last year - when he was reinstated in place of Rio Ferdinand and then dropped - suggested the Arsenal player was not one of the squad's most influential voices. Wenger said that Campbell, whose father, Sewell, died in September 2003, "doesn't go out a lot, doesn't drink".
In the meantime, the Arsenal manager will have to come up with a new left-back. With Lauren now definitely out for the remainder of the season, Sebastian Larsson will start there today and Freddie Ljungberg and Robin van Persie will be rested. Into the squad comes Theo Walcott, the prodigal 16-year-old signed last month from Southampton, as well as the new £7.5m signing Emmanuel Adebayor.
It was not, Wenger said, "Rolls-Royce" conditions for Walcott, who could cost as much as £12m, to come into the team but in training he had been "lively, alert and playing with belief". Almost 10 years ago Patrick Vieira came into the Arsenal first team just as Tony Adams announced that he was an alcoholic. If Campbell has any difficult revelations for his team-mates then Walcott should not take it as a bad omen.Reuse content