We’ve all done it. Screamed at Gervinho, I mean. When the match is firmly encamped in the tenterhooks phase; both teams engaging in thrust and cautious counter-thrust; the tension so palpable that you could cut it with the switch-blade Steve Bould undoubtedly carries around in his back-pocket: Gervinho gets the ball, attempts a dribble, jinks impressively past his man, and tonks it woefully out of play. Comic-book styled apostrophes and ampersands and a menagerie of other special characters exit your fury-laden speech bubbles as you facepalm with impunity. There has arguably been no player since Hleb-ian times who has done some things so satisfyingly right and others so emphatically wrong at Arsenal.
Gervinho does do some things well, and important things they are. When he’s confident, few players in the league can better his ability to take on a man. His dribble-stance is pretty standard now. He stops a ball dead and surveys the attacking third, the opposition full-back in front of him. He lightly prods the ball this way and that, waiting for the right moment to slip the Gerv-machete in. And with the suddenness of an Ivorian cobra, he strikes; those rickety tequila-legs propelling him past flailing enemy limbs and attempted shirt-pulls as he runs to the by-line and…well, this is where results have diverged into two broad realms of consequence so far. When stars are aligned and lucky rabbit-toes are clutched, it all fits together with a sweet ‘click’ and the cut-back is picture perfect; like against Stoke at the Emirates (twice) last year, or so many times in pre-season. But for roughly seven times out of every ten, Gervinho’s forays into the box end in a squid as damp as a very damp thing.
Last season’s game at Stamford Bridge perfectly encapsulates the two-faced nature of Gervinho’s footballing world. Both of Arsenal’s wide-men had field days, with Walcott leaving Ashley Cole on the ground like nobody’s business and Le Forehead harassing the unibrow out of Bosingwa. But to balance every successful drive into the box, there was a gargantuan gaffe; for every sensible assist to van Persie, there was an open goal missed. I actually think Gervinho has channelled the ghosts of the No. 27 shirt and resembles the early Eboue (yes, I do mean it in the complimentary way as well). He’s industrious in tracking back; persistent, if not always accurate, in his attack and delivery; and his shooting boots are safely locked up in some area of Ashburton Grove that no-one visits (trophy-room jokes, haha).
While his crosses may not always be on the right track, his ambition certainly is. He spoke to the official site about wanting to emulate Bobby Pires’ sophomore season at the club, and hopefully improve on it as well. These are heady heights to aim for- Pires was the Premier League Player of the Season that year, scoring wonderful goals and simple goals, expected goals and unexpected goals, pile-drivers and rebounds. And Gervinho, while being a dangerous outlet in our attack, is hardly the player most people are tipping to be the difference between bountiful trophy-fields and stagnant top-four plateaus. But perhaps that very thing can work in his favour. Not many teams are well-versed with the threat Gervinho poses, on account of having seen the aforementioned threat very fleetingly. Against Sunderland, he attempted twenty dribbles (a new PL record) and had people doubling up on him in the second half as the Black Cats realized that this floppy-haired speedster was not to be trifled with.
Personally, I think this will be Gervinho’s most important season at the club. The combination of innate ability, a desire to do well, and the general air of unpredictability that he gives off, is perfectly weighted at this moment. His aim will hopefully be to use all three to his advantage, kick on in terms of overall performance, and steadily improve his end product. He’s very much a microcosm of our entire team; has the foundation for something special, but just doesn’t brick-and-cement it the way he would like. The signs are positive and, frustrating as the player ultimately is, I think that the chances of his journey ending in Pires-incarnate are not as slim as they would seem.
Because when things click, he can do this. Here’s crossing fingers for a season-long Gervinho click.