Next up in the pipeline to go up as one of Arsenal’s greatest signings is someone who’s become even more popular over social media in the past few months. Following the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Ian Wright, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez is another invincible. Joining Arsenal in 2001 this was probably the most controversial transfer in our history as we tempted Sol Campbell to swap the white of Tottenham for the red of Arsenal, and on a free transfer too!
Known more for his first five-year spell at the club Campbell won two Premier League titles and three F.A. Cups as well as scoring the opener in our Champions League final against Barcelona in 2006. After spells at Portsmouth and Notts County he then returned to Arsenal for a few months in 2010 where he’d started 14 games and scored in the Champions League knock out stages against Porto.
But if we were to rewind to July 3rd 2001, the footballing community was in for a shock. So, Arsenal called a press conference to unveil their new transfer, Sol Campbell, with the story being so out of the ordinary only two journalists attended the press conference and to their amazement, they were in fact met by Arsene Wenger and Sol Campbell.
It’s fair to say the pulling power of Wenger and the men around him, including David Dein, must’ve been a different level if they were able to convince someone who came through the youth ranks and then spent nine senior years at our biggest local rivals to join us. Also, one of the best things to come from this is the video of Sol telling an interviewer he’d be staying at Tottenham while curiously scratching his neck, a video that’s now followed by Richard Keys saying ‘It was just banter’.
But anyway, back to the football. In his debut season of 2001-02 Campbell would fit right in at his new club. With Tony Adams in the last year of his career, this would see our new centre back play 48 games, 31 in the league and one of these games was much more memorable than the rest as you’d imagine. The month of November would see Campbell return to White Hart Lane for the first time since leaving.
This edition of the North London Derby was even more fired up than usual, before the Arsenal squad even reached the stadium it was clear how stressed the Spurs fans were, from attacking the Arsenal team bus to burning effigies of their former captain, we can only imagine how he felt on his way to the game. The game itself wasn’t as eventful as the build-up though as it only ended 1-1 with goals from Pires and Gus Poyet.
The move would ultimately prove to be a success for Campbell though as by the end of his first season he’d helped the club to our third league and cup double and our first trophies since the double of ’98.
Unfortunately, the next season wouldn’t be as fruitful as the last though as we lost the race for the title at the hands of Manchester United yet again. That year wouldn’t be totally negative though as another consistent year of shutting out opposition strikers Campbell found himself a way into the PFA Team of the Year for the second time in his career.
The iconic to-and-fro of success between Arsenal and Manchester United in the late 90’s and early 2000’s would then fall the way of The Gunners and Campbell, in emphatic fashion. After losing the title to United late in the previous season, this would spur Campbell and Arsenal to go the length of next season without losing a single game while winning the league.
The 2003-04 season would see him be the more constant figure in a central defence pairing that included Martin Keown and Kolo Toure, which again saw him into the PFA Team of the Year having kept an immaculate, probably irreplaceable record at the back. To make things that much sweeter for Gooners, the title was clinched at his old stomping ground of White Hart Lane. He may have conceded twice but that really didn’t matter as goals from Vieira and Pires would allow big Sol to dance and parade on the turf of Tottenham Hotspur’s now demolished White Hart Lane with blow up Premier League trophies in front of an away end full of Arsenal fans.
Now hitting 30, it was clear that we had just seen the best of the rock of a defender. He would only compete in 21 games the next year and was unfortunately robbed of a clean sheet as a Wayne Rooney dive would give United the penalty to end our unbeaten run at 49 rather than reaching the round number of 50.
His last season, which was also Highbury’s farewell year, would somewhat confirm his time at the top of English football was up. This time out he would play 29 games but the emergence of players like Johan Djourou and Philippe Senderos (yes I know it sounds ridiculous now) would see then blooded into the team even more. It may be a bitter-sweet memory for Campbell but I guess it’s nice that he was able to offer us some hope on that night in Paris in 2006. Finishing Henry’s free kick with that bullet of a header, it could be argued that if we still had 11 men on the pitch than we could’ve won the game, but I’ll leave that for another conversation.
After failing to lift the trophy with the big ears, he would then move down to Portsmouth on a free where he’d win the F.A. Cup in 2008. Campbell has now been retired for six years after ending his career with Newcastle and is now very much known for his entertaining social media presence. If you haven’t seen his iconic videos on twitter I highly recommend you go and give a few a watch, you won’t regret it!