Saturday’s demolition of Southampton saw Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal spearhead their attack with Gervinho. The Ivorian came to the club as a winger but as the history books show, Wenger has no qualms about converting wingers into strikers and, in Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie he produced two of the best strikers in the world.
Gervinho arrived at the Emirates just over a year ago and played his first season for the Gunners last season. However, the Ivory Coast international failed to make his mark on the team. Playing as a winger, making cameos on both the right and left flanks, he failed to force his way on to the team sheet as a regular starter.
Compounded by a spell away on international duty in the African Cup of Nations meant Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Tomas Rosicky were preferred starters in his position. The out-of-favour Andre Arshavin’s loan spell in Russia, however, signalled Wenger’s faith in the player.
With Arsene Wenger reluctant to meddle with the understanding that has clearly developed between new signings Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla, he admitted he prefers to play the German international on the left of his attack, stating in his post-match interview on Saturday that Podolski “gives us a balance on the left.”
As a result, the Frenchman opted to play Gervinho through the middle as the central striker, a somewhat unfamiliar position to the player. However, Wenger’s man came good, scoring twice, suggesting Wenger knew of his finishing capabilities all along.
This may have come as a surprise to the Arsenal faithful who had witnessed Gervinho’s less than mesmerising wide performances last season. The striker scuppered chance after chance as he drifted in from the flanks, time and time again, to no avail.
Gervinho’s ability to take on defenders, however, is exceptional. His speed, power, and trickery, make him a dangerous threat to any back line. That coupled with his new found finishing ability may seal in Wenger’s mind that he is the man to replace Robin van Persie as the lone striker in Arsenal’s 4-3-3 and 4-5-1 systems.
After all, a few historians may remember a young man Wenger met in Monaco as a 17-year-old winger, who he brought to Arsenal with the belief he could transform him into a star striker. The young man’s name was Thierry Henry and the rest, as they say, is history.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald