Wenger backs Campbell to defy hate

Defender faces a venomous response as he returns to White Hart Lane for the final time

For what will surely be the last time in an Arsenal shirt tonight, Sol Campbell will enter the tunnel at White Hart Lane, reacquaint himself with the familiar surroundings and stride forward towards the light, the noise and the inevitable, unremitting abuse.

Since he walked out of Tottenham almost nine years ago to join Arsenal, Campbell has been back on six occasions and never once been on the winning side, although none of those games have been as important as tonight's. If Arsenal are to overtake Manchester United in second place and keep the pressure up on Chelsea in the title race then they simply have to beat their old north London rivals.

It was November 2001 that Campbell first ran out at White Hart Lane as an Arsenal player and he does so tonight because Arsène Wenger has precious few other options. William Gallas is out until probably the end of the season and Alex Song who deputised at centre-back this season is sidelined for the next two games leaving the Arsenal manager with his 35-year-old veteran.

It is also a game of huge significance for Tottenham for whom only victory will prop up their faltering bid for fourth place and the Champions League – crucial now that they missed out on the FA Cup final. It will only serve to make for an even more pressurised atmosphere. Arsenal, without Cesc Fabregas, Andrei Arshavin, Gallas, Song and Aaron Ramsey, are also fighting to keep their season alive.

To judge by Wenger's mood yesterday, he did not hold out much hope that things had changed in the minds of Tottenham fans since that first time in November 2001 when Campbell was part of an Arsenal team that would have won at the Lane were it not for Gus Poyet's injury-time equaliser. Arsenal went on to win the title that season, but the memory of that afternoon also burns strong.

"The first time was terrible, but he did well," said Wenger yesterday, recalling an occasion on which the windows of the Arsenal team bus were bricked. "I believe he [Campbell] knows how to handle it and focuses on the game. Look, it is simple, he is an Arsenal player now. When he was looking to regain his fitness he came back here so he considers himself an Arsenal player. That's how I look at it."

The Arsenal team that Campbell played in on his first return to Spurs included battle-hardened types such as Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Ray Parlour and Lauren; a very different kind of team to the one that Wenger will trust in to deliver him three points tonight. As for Campbell he is hardly the 26-year-old, man-in-his-prime that he was almost nine years ago.

Having first agreed to Campbell's request to train at Arsenal to regain his fitness when he left Notts County, Wenger re-signed the player in January although the chances of a contract next season look slim. Wenger does, however, find himself asking the most controversial signing of his 13 years at Arsenal to play a key part in what would be a remarkable third title for Campbell if Arsenal could overhaul Chelsea.

"[In 2001] Sol made a choice," Wenger said. "At the time we had a winning side, he wanted to play for titles and you cannot stop him doing that. You have the right to go wherever you want when you're out of contract. Jamie O'Hara was a youngster here. At the end of the day he went to Tottenham and is making a good career there, so good luck to him.

"[The unforgiving is] the culture of England. You have the example of Pat Jennings who played for Arsenal and Tottenham. It was not only Sol who has played for the two teams and maybe Jennings is more Tottenham than Arsenal in people's memories. The bitterness had not come from what is happening now, it has come from the fact Sol left them on a free for Arsenal."

There is no doubt that for all his experience, Campbell can at times be a vulnerable link in Arsenal's defence and tonight he will be under intense scrutiny in what will surely be his final visit to White Hart Lane. Wenger said that the player had been "in no-man's land" towards the end of his first spell at Arsenal in 2006: "He [Campbell] wondered: 'Where do I go from here?' He went to Portsmouth, where he realised life at the top is life at the top," Wenger said. "Sol is a guy who wants to live with challenges. He gave himself a challenge to come back to the top and I give him a lot of credit for that. If you can convince Sol of a target, he will go for it without any weakness."

He hinted that Campbell might even call time on his career this summer – "Maybe he will not want to play, I don't know what he will want to do" – and if he does it will be the end of one of the more unusual careers in modern English football.

A very private man, Campbell's worst moments have nevertheless always been very public. He should really have been the next England captain when David Beckham got the job in 2000 and, recent history suggests he left Arsenal too early.

Wenger recalled a moment that convinced him of Campbell's heart. "I remember Sol's big challenge after 10 minutes of his first game back at White Hart Lane," he said. "That's when he showed he was a man. You always wondered how much impact the pressure would have on him but he showed straight away, 'I am ready for the challenge'."

Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvAs the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian on why he'll never bow to critics who habitually circle his work
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey outside Mo Nabbach’s M&M Hair Academy in west London before the haircut
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Keeper flaps at Nasri's late leveller, but Black Cat striker's two goals in 10 minutes had already done damage
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Arts & Entertainment
Play It Forward: the DC Record Fair in Washington, US
musicIndependent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads on Record Store Day
Sport
video
News
Supermarkets are running out of Easter Eggs
Deals make eggs cheaper than normal chocolate
Life & Style
Wasp factory: 1.3 million examples of the Vespa scooter have been sold in the last decade
motoringIconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales
Voices
voicesThe Ukip leader on why he's done nothing illegal
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books