Could Gervinho do more?

Can Gervinho do more?

  • The Arsenal winger who signed from French Ligue 1 champions Lille OSC in the summer for £11million has played in 7 of the Gunners’ 10 Premier League games so far.
  • Running parallel to Theo Walcott in the club’s London derby win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, his contribution benefitted the fiery-form Dutch forward in Robin Van Persie.

It seems that Arsene Wenger for this season has found a great option upfront in Gervinho. Despite some poor decision making and still trying to blend into his new surroundings, the Ivorian has proven to be a good signing. A good performance against the Blues in the 5-3 win was topped with an assist for the first of three by Robin Van Persie, to which he was substituted in the 88th minute for Belgian centre half Thomas Vermaelen. Watching him last Saturday was quite entertaining, with his coextending number Theo Walcott, run down the flanks and cut inside to provide the Chelsea full backs with something to worry about.

But there were a couple of things I’d like to pick out – please bear in mind that this analysis of his game is not out of spite or just to discourage his performance, but to use video footage and statistical analysis, combining the two, to have a decent look at it – it is also for the purpose of seeing how well he does too.

a)    Cut inside more often

* Like this?

Perhaps he did it enough in this game, but I wonder if Gervinho’s movement could be a little more instinctive – intuitive even. The rotation of wings between him and Walcott was not as often as Mata’s and Sturridge’s, but I will not pin that down on him solely. What he did was draw Bosingwa out of position and join Van Persie in attacks when the team were on the ball and making an attack. That is not being disputed, nor is it bad, but things such as when any of the central midfielders were on the ball (Mikel Arteta, Aaaron Ramsey and Alex Song) could he have played a couple one-two’s and exploit the positioning of Bosingwa? Perhaps even temporarily played as a secondary striker whilst Andre Santos played as a left winger, despite his poor first half display, and Arsenal attacked?

For the first goal it was what I have just explained – off-the-ball movement by dropping inside past Ivanovic and Terry to lay-up Van Persie for an easy tap in. 1-1 and the game is back on. During the later stages of that half, he stayed predominantly down the left-hand side, playing passes back into the midfield and attack for chances on the Chelsea defence. Jose Bosingwa found himself fairly comfortable in his position. The threats mainly stemmed from Walcott being played down the right-hand side as Chelsea dominated the first half. Take a look at the Guardian Chalkboards’ diagram of his passing during the second half:

During the second half it was similar but understandably a little better – more movement to try and instigate an Arsenal come back, which they succeeded in, and trying to break through Chelsea’s back four in what turned out to be the opposite of what people predicted – free, open-flow game and not cagey, territorial battles that relied on midfield compactness and tight marking.

Walcott was the main beneficiary of possession during the game, scoring a goal and running Ashley Cole ragged down the left touchline. His performance was superb whilst the movement was very good. If we look at Chelsea’s best winger for that game, Juan Mata, there was a sizeable difference in terms of movement. During the first half, as Chelsea attained the majority of the possession, he was often found in the centre of the park, drifting from the left side to meet up with compatriot Fernando Torres and hassle the shaky Gunners backline. Sometimes he would operate as an attacking midfielder/secondary striker. His movement allowed Ashley Cole to roam up field to make himself a fourth man, a fourth attacker since there were three. Sturridge’s poor performance meant that Mata was slightly relied on more to make the left wing as difficult as possible for Johan Djourou. He did that successfully, and was rewarded with a goal – unfortunately for him it would only be capitalised on twice.

Conceivably, Gervinho could have done the same? I take into account and consideration Andre Santos having to retreat a little further back to control the movement of Mata on the left flank but can it still not warrant Gervinho to be of a similar attacker? It would have been feasible. What I am trying to get out of this is, what Mata did was a mirage of what Gervinho could have done, or inter-change with Walcott on a more regular basis in order for Bosingwa and Cole to have a difficult time in man marking. I found a video on YouTube with highlights to the game. It doesn’t pick out everything but it’s decent enough to watch what Gervinho does (#27) in that game. Note that the music may not appeal to you, doesn’t really make a difference on the video:

b)   Decision making in the final third

I often saw that when Gervinho received the ball on the counter-attack or when he had the ball in the final thirds of the pitch, he would struggle the get the ball under control – whether that was due to him timing his first touch poorly or the pressure was too much from the defenders – or he would make the wrong decision. All nine of the unsuccessful passes he made that game had been done in open play, two of which fell back to the full back marking him and the all of the passes he did make successfully were in open play, with none of them coming from crossing or set-pieces. Now, these are just statistics and numbers. What really happened in all nine of those unsuccessful passes can only really be determined by watching actual footage of it, evidence that it was either poor decision making or the pressure of the defenders that hassled him into mistakes.

To be even more analytical, he was fouled once, dispossessed (tackled) three times and completed one dribble. Again, these are just numbers and can easily manipulate the opinions of one’s performance on the pitch, but these are just merely being used to address a point – and that point being a suggestion to what he could do more. I won’t go into too much detail with this as it will painstaking enough to find all of the statistical data and compile it into a decent enough thesis of his decision making that game.

c)    Stretch the play more – alternatively

This is an alternate theory to that of the first, but nevertheless one that can be pushed forward – playing more to the touchline, hugging it enough to allow Van Persie the ability to get the ball in the box. I have seen him do it before with Arsenal in previous games, alas to no effect as the chance is wasted, but still done well enough to provoke defensive lapses from the opposite team.

But with this comes the understanding that Gervinho is often played as a ‘wrong footed winger’. The meaning of that is a winger who plays on the wing opposite to his preferred foot, so for example Juan Mata (who is left footed) playing on the right wing. It allows for cutting inside and a better chance on shooting rather than crossing with the weaker foot, the left foot. It would mean Walcott switching to the left side and favouring his right foot more to cut inside. During the game against Chelsea, he played the right wing role more than he did switch and, although having a great effect, lacks the ability to cross the ball well – not to say that it is an easy thing to do, nor that Gervinho is far more capable (that is to be decided) but rather that Walcott, with the pace he has to offer could hassle Bosingwa more than Cole. Yes, Cole was run ragged that game by Walcott and the sheer pace of him, but what could have happened with Gervinho there? The same or completely different?

It would be shrewd of me to just say that Walcott cut inside more because his passes do not fully reflect his movement. But the ones that he did not complete, five from open play and three from crossing, may have benefitted more if he was playing in the role of a ‘wrong footed winger’. Had more shots, had a better chance of passing it with the foot he prefers more since it would result in higher accuracy and perhaps his crosses being better (?) due to him running down to the byline and cutting it back onto the inside – again, it’s just a thesis, it does not have to capture everything that could and would happen. Just thoughts.

But for Gervinho it hasn’t always been for him to just pick up the ball and run with it. Arsenal this season have favoured the right wing more than the left wing (statistics provided by 45% of the possession being played in the middle of the park whilst 29% of it in the away side’s half. In terms of shots, 60% of them have come from the middle and 22% of them from the right wing. 52% inside the box. So it again does not favour Gervinho’s left wing.

But maybe it’s for the better. Gervinho hasn’t set the Premier League alight this season but he is doing his bit to strengthen the Gunners’ options up top with his pace, technique and flair. Whether that be on or off the ball favours both Wenger and the other ten players on the pitch. The Ivorian is already the second-highest assist man for the club behind Aaron Ramsey, tied with 4, in the Premier League in his 7 appearances. With that he is also the second-highest player to make the most key passes on average, this time to Mikel Arteta (third but Nasri has left so he is eliminated). His Shots Per Game tally stands in at 2.1, and with the two he has already he has been doing well. Lastly, he has the highest Dribbles Per Game ratio in the entire squad, seconded to Nasri, but again his transfer to Manchester City disqualifies him from making the list altogether.

But nevertheless he has made a decent start – whether it be the decision making when in the final thirds, crossing the ball, passing, running or shooting, or even just timing his runs as he holds the third-highest Offsides Per Game ratio behind Kieran Gibbs and the twenty-goals man Robin Van Persie, he will get better over time. He can do more, what is suggested are not all the things he must do, but simply just opinions from someone.

The Ivorian has many a challenge to come yet.

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