It's becoming the question of the season for Arsenal fans, perhaps the problem of the decade.
To support or not to support?
After Tuesday's nightmare affair in Bradford, the query falls on the fragile figure of Gervinho. As ever in this polarized season, there is no definitive answer, only uncertainty and second-guessing.
Arsenal crashed out of the Capital One Cup on Tuesday, losing on penalties at fourth-tier Bradford City in the quarterfinals. The Gunners fielded a full-strength side but needed a late equalizer from captain Thomas Vermaelen just to send the match into extra time.
There, Vermaelen missed the decisive kick after Santi Cazorla and Marouane Chamakh missed Arsenal's first two penalties. At that, Arsenal's season of grief had its latest chapter.
For all the humiliation brought on by the shootout, the late equalizer and the loss itself, though, the low point of the evening came in the first half. Moments after Arsenal's Francis Coquelin hit the post, Gervinho wasted the simplest of chances from no more than three yards.
With the ball rolling across the box beyond Bradford's defenders and keeper, Gervinho found himself alone in front of goal with the ball at his feet. Somehow, the 25-year-old Ivorian angled his shot wide of the open net.
Reaction swiftly poured in. GIFs promptly appeared. Almost immediately, tweets flew out into cyberspace at the speed of a Robin van Persie free kick. (Still too soon?)
Some were quite funny.
Gervinho could kick himself for that performance but he'd most likely miss.— Smudger Smith (@smudgersmithpro) December 11, 2012
Others oozed snark:
At least Gervinho won't see the Twitter jokes this morning as he doesnt know how to find the Net!! #whatamiss— Paddy Power (@paddypower) December 12, 2012
Still others were cleverly self-aware:
Sad to see that people are STILL making fun of Gervinho's miss. These attacks are starting to cross the line... unlike Gervinho's shot.— Michael Cerna (@MichaelCernaBR) December 12, 2012
Finally, another type of sentiment emerged, one that pushed back against the sarcasm, snark and (admittedly humorous) potshots.
They represented a plea for restraint, like this one:
Gervinho is really helped by supporters abusing him, must do wonders for someone with fragile confidence who always gives 100%.— 1979gooner (@1979gooner) December 12, 2012
For the moment, let's focus on the last of these. Fans have long recognized Gervinho as a weak link in Arsenal's squad. The latest criticism is nothing new, even if the pain is fresher and jokes funnier than normal.
But should Arsenal fans give Gervinho a break?
The author of the tweet above is correct to argue that Gervinho plays hard. That is not an issue. The important issues here, as with any player, are confidence and production.
Gervinho's confidence can't be high at the moment. Since signing for £10.5 million in July 2011, he has scored only nine goals in all competitions. As the Daily Telegraph points out, that works out to more than £1 million per goal.
But Gervinho knows this. He must know it. His body language on the pitch lately suggests he knows this perhaps even better than the fans know it.
In that sense, the constant criticism is not productive. Every snarky tweet and angry editorial add to the pressure Gervinho already carries.
And yet, the fans are also justified. At this level, players must produce.
That's especially true for a player that cost more than £10 million. Arsenal and their manager Arsene Wenger spend money cautiously, so when an investment goes bad (or, in this case, fails to produce for at least the first year and a half), the criticism is warranted.
Gervinho is not alone, though. Wenger must take responsibility for signing him and, if the poor form continues, Wenger must let him go. What's more, Wenger must take responsibility playing Gervinho regularly at the top of Arsenal's formation.
Perhaps a break is needed. Maybe a few matches off would do Gervinho some good. What we know is that the current situation cannot continue. Tuesday's miss was egregious, and even though it was only one play, it feels like the proverbial straw on the camel's back.
As has been the case so often with Arsenal in recent years, the Gervinho situation poses tough questions that bear no obvious answers. Arsenal need goals and results, and if he can find his form, Gervinho might be able to help.
But the key word there is clearly "if."
Meanwhile, Gervinho needs the support of fans, lest he turn into Arsenal's version of Diego Forlan or Emile Heskey (if he hasn't already). But for some time now it's been clear that Gervinho's current form is not good enough for Arsenal's starting XI.
To support or not to support? Back Gervinho and possibly hurt the team or humiliate him further and possibly help it?
Even for a manager with a record as brilliant as Wenger's, there is no right answer. Even for a club with a history as rich as Arsenal, there's only uncertainty and second-guessing.
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