Expect energetic Gervinho to exceed Emirates expectations
With most of Arsenal’s pre-season talk centring around the Robin van Persie saga, not to mention the signing of Santi Cazorla – which should be announced in the next couple of days – the actual football displayed by the Gunners has somewhat sneaked under the radar.
While it’s never wise to read too far into friendlies, especially those against Asian minnows Kitchee among others, Gervinho has impressed enough for him to be firmly in Arsène Wenger’s thoughts for the new season. Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will provide sterling competition for the Ivorian winger, not to mention the (literally) left-field option of Andre Santos, but after his pre-season showing, he should be confident of his chances of a regular place.
His first season was a little tricky. After signing for Lille for roughly £10.5 million (the exact same as Thierry Henry when he joined from Juventus), hopes were high – after all, it seemed to some as if Arsène Wenger had opted for Gervinho over team-mate Eden Hazard, even though this was probably not the case.
Even so, according to experts he’d been just as impressive as Hazard in Lille’s successful title tilt, so expectations were fairly high for the new number 27. After all, he’d taken Emmanuel Eboue’s old number, so he had big shoes to fill; clown shoes to be precise.
Arsenal began the season with Gervinho as first choice left-winger, with Oxlade-Chamberlain deemed not ready, Yossi Benayoun not yet trusted, and Andrey Arshavin falling rapidly more out of favour with Arsène Wenger by the week. However, a red card on his competitive debut against Newcastle after a tussle with Joey Barton stalled Gervinho’s Arsenal career before it had even properly begun.
In and around his domestic ban, though, he began to make a good impression – he provided a vital assist for Robin van Persie in the Champions League qualifier against Udinese when the Gunners were struggling to find a way through. A goal against Blackburn after his ban ended was another high point, before he turned in arguably his best performance of the season against Stoke.
Having put the Gunners ahead early on with a smart bit of control and subsequent finish, having jinked his way into the penalty area he set up van Persie to score twice, inspiring his side to a 3-1 victory.
A woeful miss against Chelsea didn’t help his cause, but the performance surrounding it certainly did, as he helped earn his side a 5-3 win with an assist and some all-round good play. Goals against Wigan and Wolves followed, and although he didn’t score any more after that, he continued to impress intermittently with his superb dribbling skills.
As is customary with most African players though, the African Cup of Nations didn’t help his season though. Not only did it interfere with his progress with his club, missing the crucial penalty in the final clearly had a sizeable effect on the winger mentally.
Because of this, and perhaps because he still hadn’t adapted to the league fully, he struggled on occasion – at times his play was slightly timid, and the lack of final product he had at times displayed in Ligue Un was as prominent as ever.
If inconsistency was a problem in his first season though, it wasn’t in pre-season. The mazy runs were more common than ever, with several dribbles leading to chances in their numerous pre-season friendlies. A similar bit of play led to a goal for himself too, as he danced past a few Southampton defenders to fire home at St Mary’s late in a 45 minute match.
This season, Gervinho should have adapted properly to the Premier League – it often takes Premier League players to settle in 100% to English football, as Laurent Koscielny and Didier Drogba would probably attest to. With a year surrounded by the likes of Robin van Persie and coached by Arsène Wenger under his belt, there’s no doubt that he’ll have improved as a player as well.
The fundamental problems with Gervinho’s game are mostly things that can be ironed out – poor decision making, for example, will fade away the more he trains with his side and the more that he learns from those around him. His finishing still seems to need work, but practice makes perfect, and Wenger will be sure that his Ivorian wide-man is working tirelessly on his shooting.
People may mock him for the size of his forehead – sadly it doesn’t seem to help with his heading – and also focus on the errors in his game, but after a season of quiet improvement and a pre-season of showing it, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to chuck Gervinho into your fantasy team.
This article first appeared on Sabotage Times