One of the commonest complaints levelled at Arsene Wenger by his critics is that he hangs on to sub-standard players for too long.
He is accused of having ‘favourites’ and of continuing to select them long after we supporters have decided that they are not up to it.
‘Fawlty’ Manuel Almunia, ‘Sideways’ Den Denilson and Emmanuel “the Grinning Kamikaze” Eboue all spring to mind.
Now the critics are drawing up new lists. Some are comically long, leaving us with a squad containing just Szczesny, Vermaelen, Wilshere and van Persie, who in addition to their playing duties will also have to wash the kit, mow the grass and make the tea.
Others are more considered. The names most regularly seen on these lists are Diaby (too injury prone), Almunia (too error prone), Chamakh (too goal shy) and Park (too invisible).
But as our season approaches an anxious climax, I have seen Gervinho’s name bandied about as another player who should be packed in a cardboard box and deposited in ‘Goods Out’.
Is this fair?
Certainly he has been a frustrating player in his first year at Arsenal.
Against Stoke at the weekend he actually did a lot of good things – taking on his fullback and often beating him with a combination of skill and pace. But whenever he got free, he seemed incapable of making the right decision.
As for his finishing, well, let’s just say that he appears to have been getting tips from Jon Jenson.
But if you cast your mind back to the start of the season he was a promising addition to the squad. He was exciting on the ball and very, very direct. His first touch was (and still is) excellent and he can dribble past opposition defenders at will.
So far this season he has played 27 games, including nine as a substitute. He has scored four goals and made eight assists. It’s not a startling return, but nor is it awful.
My theory, for what it’s worth, is that Arsene Wenger had a notion that Gervinho could (I stress, could) turn into a new Thierry Henry.
Don’t laugh – I’m serious.
He came to us as a fast and skillful winger/forward with a French background. I’m sure it must have crossed Le Boss’s mind that there was a possibility he could blossom the way Henry did into a devastating attacker. Perhaps Wenger even thought it unlikely that van Persie would stay fit for an entire season and that there would be opportunities for Gervinho to play as a central striker.
Right now that idea seems ludicrous because we have come to think of the Ivorian as a player who lacks composure in front of goal (and, in fairness, his recent efforts have done nothing to counter that view). That puts him at the opposite end of the spectrum to Henry, who is arguably the most composed goal scorer ever to wear an Arsenal shirt.
But what many don’t realize is that Gervinho’s scoring record in France was better than Henry’s before he joined us.
Thierry bagged 20 goals in 105 games for Monaco (less than a goal every five games). In his short spell at Juventus just before Wenger scooped him up he got three in 16 (again, less than one in five).
Gervinho, by contrast, scored 28 in 67 appearances for Lille – the club from whom he joined Arsenal last summer. That’s a goal every 2.4 games – or twice as deadly as TH14 was before arriving at Highbury. Both were playing as wide attackers while in France.
It gives the lie to the suggestion that the dome-headed flyer does not have the ability to score goals. I don’t know why he’s not bagging more for the Gunners. He scored a peach at the ACN (in fact, it was quite an Henry-like finish) but in the red and white it has not really been happening.
I don’t watch French football so I have no idea whether he was played in a different role at Lille or whether it’s just a confidence thing at the moment.
Like most players who go to the ACN, he has suffered a dip in form since returning, but I really think it’s too early to give up on this young man.
Many people had doubts about Laurent Koscielny after his first season with us. Like Gervinho he had been good in parts; but, also like The Gerv, he had frustrated too. The Godawful cock-up that gifted the Carling Cup to the McLeish Relegation Team #1 seemed to be evidence of an underlying problem with the defender.
Fast forward to now and I suspect that, were it not for Robin van Persie’s ability to pop the egg in the basket at moments of personal convenience, young Kozzer would be Arsenal’s player of the season.
I am hopeful that Gervinho’s Arsenal career will follow a similarly upward trajectory and that next season will be a big year for him
Do I think he can become a new Thierry? Probably not, because players like Henry are very rare indeed. But if he can become 50% of what TH was it will still make him one of the best players in the league.
Do I think he can become a vital and effective part of the Arsenal attack? Yes I do.
He has now had a season of adjusting to the EPL. It would be crazy to jettison him at exactly the point where we can expect him to start showing why Arsene Wenger believed in him in the first place.