One Of Us Speaks: It’s The Wide, Wide World Of Gervinho
“And if I just would like to achieve one thing today it is: trust us, this team has qualities, this team will fight. And if you help us to do that I think we will have a successful season” – Arsène Wenger at yesterday’s AGM.
Late in the game against Stoke, Gervinho carried the ball deep into their half on the right. 3-1 up with no need to hurry the play, he slowed to walking pace before stopping. Stoke had closed down this area all match. This time, one of the interchangeable members of Stoke’s backline – I don’t know or care which – kept his distance and loitered.
Anthropologists contend this is an overt display of submission in Stoke, one step before curling into a ball. Because by then those boys had learned their lesson; Gervinho had subjected them to abject humiliation all afternoon.
He’s done it quite a few times this season, finding room in impossibly tight positions on the byline; the crucial first goal away in Udinese, the numerous wasted opportunities against Blackburn and Newcastle. Here we have a player who shines when teams like Stoke usher us into those high, wide positions, where they think they want us.
Whereas Nasri would turn back or look for a pass inside, Gervinho takes people on and very often works himself free. If he can develop his relationship with his teammates, anticipate their movement in the box then the weakest aspect of our attacking game may emerge as one of the strongest.
He doesn’t appear to have a great deal of finesse but he’s more slippery than a brylcreemed eel. He’s not the kind of player we’re accustomed to but he’s just what the 4-3-3 needed. And you won’t know you’re in trouble until he gets you one-on-one at the outer limits of the pitch, dragging you into his crazy world.
His opener last weekend summed up the other way he’ll help the side. He makes razor-sharp runs off the ball, all the more dangerous thanks to his ferocious pace over the first few yards. Seconds into his first match in an Arsenal shirt he got on the end of a Wilshere through pass and clip it over FC Köln’s keeper. This is going to make our midfielders’ lives easier, as they in turn start to spot Gervinho’s runs. Ramsey and Song have already done so this season with self-belief regained.
After the game Pulis laid into his defence (without using his fists this time), admonishing them for letting us “in behind” for all three goals. We certainly didn’t manage it many times at home against them last season, creating little more than a set-piece goal but on Sunday Gervinho did it for fun, both on and off the ball.
Gervinho is someone who can create danger from apparently innocuous situations, something that can’t really be said for Theo Walcott. It’s often the way for our first-team – if you’re not at your best and there’s an exciting young English player vying for your position you best get ready for trouble.
Let’s look at that competition. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be a fixture in our first team. It might be this season but I don’t think he’s been given any more or fewer opportunities than his performances have warranted. What we’re talking about are good showings against giants such as Iceland, Azerbaijan and Israel U-21s and a blistering second half at home to Shrewsbury.
All being well, he should be shining in these games but they won’t tell us too much about how he’ll fare in the Premier League. Arsène Wenger thinks he isn’t quite ready and that’s good enough for me. All I can add to that is when I see him taking on League 2 players and junior internationals with his head down, I stroke my beard and think, “You wouldn’t get away with that in the Premiership, sunshine.” Don’t ask me why I say “sunshine”.
Theo looks like he needs something to go his way. My clumsy theory is that he’s a player who performs best when the team is purring. To me, his best talents are his supernatural pace over longer distances, finishing and the timing of his diagonal runs from wide. For these skills to pose a threat he’s pretty much dependent on the group which, though improving, hasn’t quite reached the highs of previous seasons. Sometimes you wonder what his teammates expect of him – I mean, what’s he supposed to do when he gets the ball to feet, double marked, by the touch-line?
But, at the very least, his presence in the team and the threat that he carries should he find room inside, affords space in other areas of the pitch and discourages his counterparts from getting forward. Specious reasoning perhaps but I doubt many left-sided players are instructed to overlap when Theo is in town. He’s also a more rugged customer than any of his competition at Arsenal, tracking back and tackling with ever-increasing diligence.
I think we all know why he tends to hug the touch-line – he’ll naturally take a couple of opposition players with him if he’s there, which is good news for a team that’s predisposed to playing through the middle. On an individual level, Theo might enjoy a little more success against packed defences by occasionally stepping infield, attempting central runs from a little deeper.
This might be a simplistic view but it could be that the very tactics employed against us to nullify Theo’s talents, are the ones that play into the hands of our Ivorian. If the defenders tuck in and force the play wide then they’re playing Gervinho’s game, baby. And who knows, when Premier League defences realise what they’re up against with him and take precautions, it might be Theo’s time to shine once more.