Gervinho is out of his depth at Arsenal

Posted by Iain Macintosh

David Price/Getty ImagesArsenal may not be able to keep up with the spending of City and Chelsea, but surely they can spend better than on players like Gervinho.

When the number 27 blinked into life on the fourth official's board, the Arsenal crowd roared in approval. For the first and last time on such a disappointing evening in the Champions League against Schalke at Emirates Stadium, they rose to their feet and broke into spontaneous applause. Poor Gervinho, a one-man incompetence bomb, hesitated for a moment under the floodlights, as if a little unsure as to why he was being removed, then nodded and trotted off to the bench obediently. Still, the Arsenal fans celebrated and thus, having spent the entire night getting things wrong, the hapless Ivorian signed off by politely applauding them for what he seemed to think was their support.

Gervinho has been in English football for over a year now and still the question remains: What is he? What is he for?

He has never been what you might consider a typical Arsene Wenger player, primarily because he doesn't actually seem to be very good at football. Perhaps that's a little harsh. Obviously, he has some plus points. When Arsenal's supporters have calmed down a bit, they'll tell you about his directness, his bursts of pace and his moments of gripping spontaneity. But he lacks the technique and close control of his colleagues, or at least the consistent ability to display it. His reading of the game and his decision-making are so poor that he can occasionally make Theo Walcott look like Teddy Sheringham. There are moments when he can conjure up a game-changing moment of magic, but there are more frequent moments when you wonder what on earth he's doing in this Arsenal squad.

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There were two incidents midway through the first half of Arsenal's defeat to Schalke that rather summed Gervinho up. In the 23rd minute, he wandered into the middle of an intricate matrix of short, swift passes and quickly snuffed out his own team's threat with one heavy touch. Moments later, he had the chance to make amends. With dazzling pace, he broke clear and scampered into the box, but instead of shooting, he overelaborated, cut inside, drew the attention of another defender, ran out of talent and fell over.

Of course, it wouldn't be fair to ignore the good things that he did, such as they were. In the second half, he dropped deep from the front line and won the ball back with a well-timed tackle. Turning immediately and clattering away into the channels for a return pass, he evaded his man and slipped a well-weighted ball across the 6-yard box. Sadly for Arsenal, there was no one there to meet it.

It's certainly not a lack of effort that is holding Gervinho back. He's obviously doing his best. Indeed, getting angry with him is like getting angry with a puppy who dutifully brings you your newspaper but then grins and urinates all over the rug while you're saying thank you. Ultimately, it's your fault for not training him better.

He's an awkward winger. The damage he causes when he cuts in is usually neutralised by the lack of awareness of his surroundings. He's certainly not a lone striker, either, regardless of the goals he's scored, because he can't provide anything other than a fleeting threat. He's not terrible, but at the same time he's not particularly good.

It is unlikely that any other Champions League knockout stage stalwart will hold a board meeting this summer at which Item One on the agenda is "How Can We Sign A Player Like Gervinho?" Manchester City have plundered the Emirates for talent for several years, but it's hard to imagine Roberto Mancini pouncing for this wayward Gunner.

And herein lies the problem. While Arsenal fans and board members fight among themselves at their AGM for the right to influence the future of their club, the present is abundantly substandard. Arsenal may not be able to keep up with the spending of Chelsea and Manchester City, but they're hardly paupers on the world stage and they should be better than this. Despite the gloating of their rivals, their constant qualification for the cash-rich knockout stages of the Champions League means that they must still be counted as a part of Europe's elite.

Gervinho was by no means the only man at fault for Arsenal's defeat this week. Team-mates, coaching staff and Wenger himself must all share the blame for this debacle. But there comes a time when you have to stop looking for excuses and accept that some of the players just aren't good enough. Gervinho, sadly, is out of his depth.

Iain Macintosh is the UK Football Correspondent for The New Paper in Singapore and the co-author of "Football Manager Stole My Life" from @backpagepress. You can follow him on Twitter on @iainmacintosh

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