At times during Arsenal's 3-1 victory over Olympiakos on Wednesday night in the UEFA Champions League, Gervinho lit up the Emirates Stadium pitch. The Ivorian took a half-chance well and converted it for another unexpected goal. He set up Lukas Podolski for Arsenal's second. At times, he even served as the team's driving creative force.
At other times, he was just Gervinho.
That is to say, he was the old Gervinho. He was the guy Gooners got to know last season, the guy guilty of aimless, pointless dribbles, boneheaded decisions, mistimed or otherwise unwise movements and all manner of generally exasperating football.
In other words, Gervinho's performance Wednesday night exemplified his season so far. In this season of transition and uncertainty for Arsenal, Gervinho might serve as the ultimate head-scratcher.
Is Gervinho a classy player, successfully transferred into a striker, now ready to fill the void left by Robin van Persie? Or is he a lost cause, hopeless except in those rare cases that he—accidentally it would seem—does something inexplicably incredible?
Or is there a third option?
Gervinho arrived at Arsenal from Lille in the summer of 2011 full of promise. That promise took an immediate hit after the Ivorian drew a red card in his first Premier League match after being goaded into an altercation with then-Newcastle midfielder Joey Barton.
His debut season saw mixed results from there. Gervinho finished with four goals in all competitions and drew criticism for his inconsistent performances.
After the departure of van Persie to Manchester United, manager Arsene Wenger moved Gervinho into the middle of Arsenal's attack. The move has paid off, even if Gervinho's performances have remained inconsistent.
Wednesday's goal was Gervinho's fifth in all competitions—already one more than he scored all of last season.
5 - Gervinho has now scored more goals for Arsenal this season (five) than he managed in the whole 2011/12 campaign (four). Revamped.— Opta(@OptaJoe) October 3, 2012
Gervinho's scoring form prompted unfortunate comparisons to Thierry Henry, another winger turned into a striker by Wenger. After Wednesday's match, stand-in manager Steve Bould played down those comparisons (per Reuters, via The Independent).
"If he gets anywhere near Thierry Henry we'll take that all day long," Bould said. "He is learning and doing OK. I'm delighted."
Of course Bould is delighted, and of course Arsenal would gleefully greet the second coming of Henry. But even mentioning Gervinho in the same breath as Henry is wildly optimistic at this point.
Gervinho is improving, though, and he deserves a fair shake from Gooners who are still paralyzed with fear every time he touches the ball.
Gervinho earned his share of criticism in his first season at Arsenal, including more than a little from this writer. Early this season, his rediscovered scoring ability has helped Arsenal in a time of transition, though at times he still frustrates with a leaden first touch and poor decision-making.
For now, Gervinho has shaken off the label of failure, but it's still too early—and he's still too error-prone—to anoint him Arsenal's next free-scoring savior.