Arsenal Focus – Gervinho enjoys new lease of life through the middle

It was a harsh welcome to the Premier League. Having been frustrated by Newcastle for 76 minutes, the Arsenal debutant sidled into the Magpies’ penalty area before hitting the grass under minimal contact from Cheick Tiote’s left leg. The controversial Joey Barton yanked the Ivorian winger to his feet to lambast him. A tangle ensued and, after a measly slap left Barton writhing in ‘agony’, the first appearance of Gervinho, the Gunners’ big summer signing, ended prematurely.

In fairness, it was not the easiest time for Gervinho to enter the Arsenal setup and make an immediate impact. With Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas having departed only weeks earlier the club were still in disarray – a fact supported by their torrid start to the season. And, while Arsenal’s hit-and-miss season had a relatively happy ending, Gervinho’s inconspicuous campaign provided more of the latter than the former.

But now able to call on a year’s worth of Premier League experience, under some of the most testing times he can expect to face at a club of Arsenal’s stature, Gervinho is ready to have a second attempt at thrilling crowds at the Emirates Stadium. However it could be in a new central role, as exhibited in Arsenal’s 6-1 hammering of Southampton in north London on Saturday.

Though Arsenal’s front three of Gervinho, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla were extremely fluid, the Ivorian started as a central frontman and impressed by scoring twice in the rout.

Manager Arsene Wenger told the official Arsenal website: “I decided [to play Gervinho centrally] during our tour of Asia when I tried to play him there against Man City in that position. I liked what he did and it was in the back of my mind.

It is interesting because he is such a great mover and he is so quick so when he is central, once he gets ahead of the central defender it is difficult to catch him back.

With the emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coupled with the signing of Lukas Podolski, Gervinho’s ability to play through the middle will put him in a good position to play more games this season. He started only half of Arsenal’s Premier League matches last year, though that was partly down to his departure for the African Cup of Nations in January.

One man who will have had mixed feelings about Gervinho’s performance against the Saints is summer acquisition Olivier Giroud, who was forced to watch on from the bench. Giroud is yet to find the net for Arsenal and Wenger remains unsure of whether he will start against his former club Montpellier in the Champions League in midweek.

Wenger continued: “I felt that he is under much pressure at the moment and sometimes to get a little breather is good. What I will do on Tuesday [against Montpellier] I honestly don’t know. I just felt that the time has come for him to not be under too much pressure.

Gervinho will certainly be Giroud’s main rival for a starting place in France. Luckily for him, Montpellier is the destination – and not Joey Barton’s new location, Marseille.

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