After growing tension from supporters concerning the unfortunate emptiness of the north London trophy cabinet, Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal board have given in to the pressure and revealed that there will be a flurry of activity in the transfer market this summer – partly because some first team players were given a fair chance to prove themselves this season, but weren’t able to claim their place in the squad.
Players like Denilson, Abou Diaby and Nicklas Bendtner are presumed to be on their way out, while Gael Clichy has already been sold to Manchester City, and there is annual doubt about the future of Cesc Fabregas, and contractual issues with Samir Nasri. Although we have plenty of talent coming through from the youth ranks next season – e.g. Henri Lansbury, Emmanuel Frimpong, Kyle Bartley, etc – the impact of losing 5-6 first team players in one transfer window would be too much to handle without proper replacements.
And so we’re entering the murky waters of the transfer market, where players like Jordan “King of the U21′s” Henderson sells for £20m, Andy Carroll goes for £35m and where Cesc Fabregas is apparently “worth less this year due to ‘wear and tear’” (thank you Sandro Rosell for the never-ending quotes). And as usual, Wenger will probably do most of his deals in the “lesser” leagues.
‘Gervinho’ (Gervais Yao Kouassi)
Which brings us to the fist major signing of the season, and the newest addition to Wenger’s troops – wide forward Gervinho. Arsenal have been scouting him for years, and with the potential loss of both Arshavin and Nasri this season, they were quick to initiate talks with Lille about the in-form Ivorian as soon as the Premier League season was over.
Gervinho had a very good season with Lille, contributing to their first league and cup titles in over 50 years. Played mostly in the right wide forward slot, with Hazard on the opposite wing, he racked up 8 goals and 7 assists in 19 starts when played in that position – 15 goals and 10 assists in 35 appearances overall.
Highlights of Gervinho’s season include the 6-3 win over Lorient (1 goal + 1 assist, 9.52 rating on Who Scored) and the 3-0 win over Nancy (2 goals + 1 assist, 9.69 rating) – but Gervinho’s best performance this season was no doubt the 3-1 win over Caen, where he had 4 shots on target, made 2 key passes (1 assist), attempted 9 dribbles and was named man of the match by a mile with an almost perfect 9.79 rating. Together with centre forward Moussa Sow, the pair contributed to 59% of all Lille’s goals (goals + assists) during the 2010/2011 season.
He was also included in the Who Scored 2010/2011 best Ligue 1 eleven, ahead of Marseille’s excellent right winger Loic Remy.
Strengths & Weaknesses
Gervinho is a trickster, dribbling past opponents to get in a good position to distribute key passes and assists to his team-mates, or take a shot at goal. He cuts inside more often than not, which will suit Arsenal’s current 4-2-3-1 system where the wide forwards drift inward to allow the wing backs to take up wide positions. He’s adept at playing on both flanks, but is much more comfortable on the right side of the pitch.
In terms of physicality, he’s described as being athletic, quick and strong, often winning shoulder-to-shoulder duels. This will be a useful quality to have when up against the brutes of the mid-table Premier League teams.
He has a strong forward focus, having attempted 88 shots in 35 appearances, often ending up being the most advanced player on the pitch. This is similar to how Theo Walcott operates in the current Arsenal 4-2-3-1 system. Gervinho was also the only player in Ligue 1 to achieve double figures in both goals and assists this season.
Arse 2 Mouse revealed some interesting numbers from Opta, specifically that the Ivorian missed 27 “big chances” compared to team-mate Eden Hazard’s modest 6. On the other hand, Gervinho also scored in 15 “big chances”, so he does end up in goalscoring positions rather frequently.
Unfortunately, many of his negative traits are similar to current problems within the Arsenal squad, as the Ivorian lacks a defensive mindset and rarely attempts to tackle the ball. He’s 5’10 (179cm), which, compared to Bilbo Arshavin or Frodo Wilshere, is gigantic, but the lack of quality in the air makes his height irrelevant.
An even bigger issue is that he lacks a little in the decision-making department, and can be frustrating to watch at times. There’s also a question of inconsistency – he can go from a fantastic performance to a horrendous performance in the span of just one game. After his masterclass at home vs Caen, he went on to record his lowest rating of the season in the next game against Monaco – a measly 4.77. Same thing after his excellent show against Nancy – the next match he was nowhere to be seen.
A final worry concerns an issue Arsenal has had trouble with in the past – the African Cup of Nations. Gervinho is an essential part of the Ivory Coast national team, so Arsenal is set to miss him for a month at the beginning of 2012, from early January to mid-February. This has been an issue with former players like Kolo Touré and Emmanuel Adebayor, and the tournament takes place during a crucial period in the Premier League.
Where Will He Play?
Seeing as the signing of Gervinho is presumably a reaction to possibly losing Arshavin and/or Nasri, one would think that it’s our left flank that needs strengthening, not the right. We already have Theo Walcott playing in the right wide forward position, and getting match time is essential to the development of our lightning-quick Barcelona scarecrow.
If we lose Arshavin and Nasri, we’d have a slim selection on our left flank. Even if Nasri stays, he still prefers, and performs, better on the right. With Gervinho’s successful season on the right flank, it’s unlikely Wenger would expect him to play out of position, which essentially means we’d have three quality wide forwards, but all of them would prefer the right wing.
What’s even more important to discuss is who Gervinho will block when it comes to our youth players. The club promotes youngsters to the first team every year to encourage the development within our own ranks, and every time an established player is signed it becomes harder for our homegrown talent to get a fair chance. Of the players able to play in the wide forward positions in the coming years, we have Pedro Botelho (left wing back/left winger), Wellington (right winger) and Ryo Miyaichi (right/left winger) as promising prospects, and we also have Carlos Vela able to play on the left wing. That’s it in terms of wingers/wide forwards though, so there’s no doubt we need strengthening in this department.
Assuming Nasri goes and Arshavin stays, our wide forward line-up for next season would be Walcott, Gervinho and Arshavin, with Vela maybe given a chance as backup. This is on the thin side, so expect Wenger to strengthen this department further during the summer transfer window. Rumoured potential signings included Ricky Alvarez (Velez Sarsfield), but Inter Milan won the deal ahead of Arsenal, who wouldn’t go over a set price for the 23-year old.
Gervinho will probably have a strong start in the first half of the season, as usual with Wenger’s summer signings, eager to prove his worth and impress his new family of team-mates, coaches and supporters. However, his erratic nature is worrying, and inconsistency is something we need less of, not more. It’s also slightly worrying that Walcott might be sidelined, as he’s such an important weapon to have, when in-form.
Hopefully Wenger can find a solution that will get the best out of all our wide forwards, and it’s going to be interesting to see how Gervinho fits into Wenger’s plans.
More reading and information about Gervinho:
Who Scored – What Gervinho’s Game Would Bring to Arsenal
Arse 2 Mouse – An Expert View On The Pros And Cons Of Signing Gervinho
Who Scored – Lille’s Attacking Trident