There’s nothing more frustrating as a football fan than those players who dazzle you with incisive play one minute, then look like they’ve never seen a football the next—Gervinho is one such enigma.
After an impressive preseason, Gervinho looked like he might finally start to find the form that saw him score 18 goals in his last season at Lille. A brace against Southampton, followed by Arsenal’s second in the Champions League win against Montpellier gave further hope to Arsenal fans that last season’s rather modest return of four goals and six assists could be put down to the fashionably termed “adaptation period.”
Yet, after Arsenal’s 1-1 draw against Manchester City, last season’s familiar criticisms of Gervinho’s end-product re-emerged. An Aaron Ramsey ball that split City’s defence would have seen Gervinho one-on-one with City’s Joe Hart, had the Ivorian forward not shown a first touch that would have shamed a brick wall. Gervinho also had a chance to grab a winner from the edge of the penalty area late in the game, only to blaze high and wide.
Gervinho has since responded to his critics in the best way possible—with goals. After scoring in Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat against Chelsea, the pacey forward added another to his tally with Arsenal’s first in the 3-1 Champions League victory over Olympiacos. This puts Gervinho at the top of the Arsenal scoring charts and suggests that the player could flourish in the more central role he has been allocated this season.
Nevertheless, Gervinho’s early-season fluctuation reflects the way the Arsenal forward often frustrates fans in individual games. While Gervinho should be praised for the frequency in which he works his way into dangerous positions, he has often shown a lack decisiveness when he gets himself into those areas. I would argue that the majority of fans have always appreciated Gervinho’s work rate and his willingness to take players on; what they haven’t appreciated is his tendency to dwell at the last second, the inconsistency of the final product.
After five goals in seven appearances, it is hard to argue that Gervinho is not beginning to address such concerns, adding a more ruthless streak to his game. Confidence can do wonders for players and it is evident that this is the case for Gervinho. The only slight concern is how the player will respond to a knockback—a bad miss, or a run of games without a goal.
History shows that Gervinho seems to have something of a temperament problem. In the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations final Gervinho’s Ivory Coast had to take on Zambia in a penalty shootout after a goalless draw. One might expect a forward like Gervinho to step up to the plate, but in actual fact, all nine other outfield players volunteered before Gervinho eventually made his way to the penalty spot and fired the decisive penalty over the bar.
A striker who is scared of taking penalties doesn’t inspire confidence. It seems that when Gervinho has time to think, things start to go wrong. While Gervinho is on a roll, scoring goals, there is no problem. One or two misses, however, and the doubts might start to creep in. The Arsenal forward might begin to overthink things, dallying on the ball in the same fashion that left the player maligned by so many critics last season.
Gervinho is clearly a player with ability and he rightly deserves praise for his impressive start to the season. However, the real test will come when things aren’t quite going his way. Whether the Ivorian can demonstrate the mental strength that has been lacking in the past remains to be seen, but if he can show that he can stay cool when the pressure is on, he will become a force to be reckoned with.
Gervinho’s performances since the game against Man City give hope to Arsenal fans that we are seeing a more mentally tough Gervinho this season. One who is perhaps starting to overcome the confidence issues that have contributed to his indecisiveness in the final third in the past. Let’s hope the Ivorian can maintain his rich vein of form and continue to grow into his role at the focal point of Arsenal’s front line, if for no other reason than to stop Arsenal fans tearing their hair out.