He is inconsistent. He is selfish. He has the biggest forehead in London. But if he can find top form, he will be critical to Arsenal’s success next season.
The Ivorian’s infuriating decisions on the pitch have led to criticism—partially justified—from the Arsenal faithful. But with a year left on his contract, Gervinho has reiterated his commitment to the side and wants to prove that he can be one of the league’s best forwards.
I was thrilled when Gervinho first arrived at the Emirates. A quick YouTube search had me captivated by his mesmerizing dribbles, lightening pace and clever finishing.
Two years later, the wiry winger is still trying to replicate the form that saw him notch 15 goals and 10 assists in 35 matches during his last season with Lille.
Gervinho now lives a tormented life as a winger/forward/striker. Theo Walcott dealt with this hybrid role for years but finally appears to be coming into his own. Not quite physical enough to play as lone strikers but not true outside midfielders either, wingers frequently suffer indecision around the box.
Gervinho's physicality was questioned upon his arrival. Indeed, his slight frame is a rarity in the English game. Yet it is not his physical attributes that have kept him on the bench but rather his mental ones.
There are countless times when Gervinho has streaked in from the left, dashing into the opponent’s danger zone before spraying a shot wide when a simple pass was the right option—or vice versa.
Moments of brilliance on the ball reveal what a game-changer Gervinho can be. Though his decision-making may be frustrating at times, there is always the chance that he could create a goal from nothing.
But, Gervinho is a forward that needs confidence to survive. Like many on the front lines, a few missed chances can go a long way towards invoking an extended goal drought and lack of form.
History will tell you that Gervinho is capable of scoring—his pure athleticism is responsible for that—but he needs to advance his composure in front of goal to justify a prominent role in the squad.
I think he is capable.
Despite groans from the fans, Gervinho had a decent year statistically. The attacker scored five goals and recorded three assists in just 12 league starts. That production—though modest—is pretty solid for a rotation player.
Those five goals came from just 34 shots. To give that some context, Aaron Ramsey took 46 shots to yield one goal, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took 33 to score just one.
Furthermore, when Gervinho was played through the middle, he recorded four goals and an assist in just six appearances according to Whoscored.com. This small sample size makes it harder to extract real evidence, but it does indicate that his output is not all that bad in the scheme of things.
Statistics rarely tell the whole story, and I’m sure we can all conjure up images of chances wasted—Bradford and Manchester City come to mind. These flounders linger with the fans, though perhaps Gervinho has been unjustly accused.
Like Walcott, Gervinho is a player that needs just a bit more confidence and opportunity to develop composure in front of net.
At age 26, though, his days of fulfilling his potential are numbered. He should be entering the prime of his career, but instead he is still searching for answers.
His progress at Arsenal seems to be habitually interrupted with his absence during the Africa Cup of Nations, but his performances for the Elephants indicate he is capable of reaching another level.
Arsenal do not need him to produce every game. They have players like Lukas Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain who can rotate through the wings. But they do need Gervinho to provide that extra spark when things aren't going according to plan.
The Ivory Coast man enters a crucial year in his career, and I think he can finally find top form this season. He won’t start every game, but a few goals and a consistent place in the rotation will go a long way towards helping Gervinho become the player Arsenal wants him to be.