Gervinho has divided many fans since his move to Arsenal from Lille in the summer of 2011. The Ivorian with the big forehead has had some great games for Arsenal, but they are often too few to call him a top player, which begs the question: is he good enough for Arsenal?
Against Chelsea this weekend, despite scoring Arsenal’s solitary goal, he looked off the pace and disinterested for the majority of the match. His slick turn and powerful finish were overshadowed by his lack of forward thinking and his sloppy passing. The first half was undoubtedly better for him, and he looked to be continuing his decent form this season.
The moment Arsenal took Podolski off to bring on Giroud was when Arsenal looked to have passed up their chances of winning the game, but not because of Giroud. The real issue was that Wenger had substituted Podolski, who had made the two best runs of the game by cutting inside, and not Gervinho, who looked lethargic and predictable.
The longer games go on, the less effect Gervinho seems to have on games and that is a serious problem at the top level. It is not feasible to start a player knowing that he will have to come off early in the second half. The three substitutions allowed can be match winners, and having to use one on Gervinho could prove costly in some games where the centre of midfield needs fresh legs.
Another problem the 25 year old has is that he immediately chooses to look sideways when passing. Whereas players such as Podolski, Cazorla and Walcott like to look for a forward pass first, Gervinho slows down the fast tempo Arsenal is so proud of by choosing to play a square ball. In the last few minutes against Chelsea, with the Arsenal team desperately pushing forward in a couple of counter-attacks, Gervinho allowed Chelsea players to get back by delaying before making a short, square pass to a teammate. Be it lack of vision or just sheer lack of urgency, it could potentially cost Arsenal in future games. How many Arsenal fans were screaming for him to get it forward on Saturday?
Admittedly, Gervinho’s good attributes have been omitted so far. He can show bursts of pace when he wants to, and he isn’t a bad finisher, which possibly shows why Wenger is happy for him to be a centre forward at times in the team. He does prove a nuisance for defenders because he hassles them when he finds a bit of hunger in himself and this is never a bad thing for a team. Never has Gervinho been guilty of sulking or becoming egotistical either, which can be very bad for teams. In fact, he often looks like one of the happier players for the team.
The winger does chip in with the odd goal (with his tally this season not looking bad so far) and he clearly enjoys giving to the fans. He looks genuinely excited when he scores and a player who appreciates how his work affects the club is never to be underestimated. It will be interesting to see if he can keep his early season goal-scoring form up throughout the year.
However, Gervinho is primarily a winger and he needs to build up a better link up play with the players around him. His understanding sometimes seems off and he can too often go missing when out wide, which is excruciating for Wenger as his game plan often relies on the wingers coming inside to help out in midfield and then showing the desire to get back out wide in a matter of seconds.
The man who divides many needs to understand that his seemingly late-match fatigue issues can and will hinder any progress Arsenal wish to make. For a fee of around £10m-£11m, which is what Arsenal paid for the winger, you could argue that much better quality could be found, especially with Wenger’s eye for a bargain. He is still in his mid-twenties so may yet prove to hit his prime in the next two seasons, but until then, there could be a problem with Arsenal’s lack of energy up-field in some games, particularly those with extra-time involved.
The jury is still out and Gervinho still has the best part of a season to prove his worth, but he may need to show some top performances for 90 minutes soon, before the Arsenal fans start getting impatient. Trophies are won and lost in the later stages of games, and a player who can only perform for an hour can be seen as the weakness in top clubs. Arsenal is a top club and the players need to reflect that.