Arsenal FC captain Sol Campbell was keen to praise his side's senior players for "raising their game" after the 2-1 victory over AFC Ajax at the Amsterdam ArenA last night. But for his team-mates and manager, it was all down to the England centre-back himself - their "rock".
Campbell missed the start of the season with a groin injury and without him Arsenal struggled, following the FA Community Shield loss to Chelsea FC with two defeats in their first four Premiership outings. He returned to the side for the 2-1 win at home to FC Thun on Matchday 1 of the UEFA Champions League, and it is perhaps no coincidence that his return to fitness has coincided with a marked up-turn in the side's fortunes.
'He was terrific'
The 31-year-old scored twice on his return to Premiership action against Everton FC but it was in his more familiar defensive role that he came to the fore against Ajax. "He was terrific," was manager Arsène Wenger's simple assessment of his captain's performance. "I think what you saw tonight was the Sol of 2003/04. He had a frustrating season last year, but he’s come back sharper and more dominant than he has been for a long time."
No one would agree more than Ajax, who made little headway in their endeavour to cancel out Fredrik Ljungberg's second-minute opener last night. Robert Pirès had made it 2-0 from the penalty spot by the time the Eredivisie outfit finally penetrated the Arsenal back line. Even then there was a hint of good fortune about it, Tomáš Galásek's blistering shot falling kindly for substitute Markus Rosenberg to scramble in.
With time running out Ajax pressed for an equaliser but to no avail as Arsenal registered their first away win of the season. And from the vantage point of the Arsenal bench, there was one man in particular to thank. "Sol Campbell was a rock," substitute goalkeeper Mart Poom said. "He's a superb player and we really needed him. He's back to his best."
Meanwhile, Campbell was happy to leave the effusiveness to others: "It was a good performance. There were a few players missing but the more experienced players raised their game. Personally, the sharpness is there, I just need a bit more stamina for the last five minutes but that's coming. I'm getting stronger." Although spoken in a whisper, those will be chilling words for AC Sparta Praha, Arsenal's next Champions League opponents on 18 October.
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