Gervinho has won the French title with Lille and played in the World Cup finals for Cote d’Ivoire, and yet Arsenal fans are still divided about the prospect of the winger signing for them this summer. A French football scout based in Lille offers us the low-down on Arsenal’s first big-money signing of the Stan Kroenke era.
How good is Gervinho?
He is a good player. My view would be that he is good enough for Arsenal, even though he gets a bit of stick in France. Whether he is worth the fee that’s been mentioned, between €12 and €15m, is difficult to answer, but he has only one year left on his contract, so it does sound a lot. I’ve seen most of Lille’s games this season and he’s exceptionally quick, tall, lean and strong, much stronger than he looks. He can shoulder people off the ball as though they’re not there. One thing he does give you that his team-mate Eden Hazard doesn't is goals. Gervinho is a better finisher, and gets in more scoring positions, he’s far more likely to snap up a chance. Lille have played a 4-3-3 formation all season and of the two wingers, it’s Gervinho who operates as the auxiliary striker, as his stats prove: last season he got 12 goals, this season he got 15, and ten assists. That’s a tremendous return.
So why does get stick in France?
Well, he can be frustrating. His decision-making occasionally lets him down, and he does have that ability to wind fans up with his performances. Against Sochaux in Week 36, for example, he missed an easy chance in the first chance, and everyone groaned. But then in the second half, he scored the winner. He’s that type of player. There was another match, Lille were 1-0 up and he led a counter-attack but made a poor pass which should have created a goal. But then he’s never anonymous: against Brest, in Week 27, Lille were trailing but he equalised and turned the game around. In the French Cup semi-final, he rounded the Nice goalkeeper to score as though he wasn't there, and in the final, he was Lille’s best outfield player. He even won a penalty after Lille had taken the lead (which was missed).
It sounds like his game will suit the Premier League.
Most definitely. Having played for Le Mans and now Lille, moving to England is the natural progression. He has pace and strength as well as technique. He may not be as dextrous as Hazard, but he is skilful and it looks a good fit, if he can settle. That’s always the big ‘if’.
What’s his best position?
He played on the right side of Lille’s 4-3-3 system for most of the season, and would cut in from that position. Occasionally he switched with Hazard and played on the left, but he never played as a centre-forward. Even when the regular centre-forward [and Ligue 1’s top scorer] Moussa Sow was out, Gervinho stayed wide and Tulio de Melo or Pierre-Alain Frau would step in. So it remains to be seen how he would adapt to playing in a different system, like a 4-4-2, as he’s unlikely to find a team that sticks as rigidly to 4-3-3 as Lille did. If he did have to change formation, it would be an interesting test to see how he would adapt to it.
Like Kuyt, you can always see with Gervinho why the coach has picked him. He makes things happen.
He’s been linked to Arsenal, Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester City: which team would he suit best?
He doesn't say much considering he is a French champion but one thing he has always said is that he wants to play Champions League football. So while it shows great ambition that Newcastle are looking at him, I think it’s a long-shot. The same is true, though to a lesser degree, at Liverpool. In April, I thought he might end up at a team like Liverpool or Tottenham but since then, two Champions League teams have been linked with him. Of those two, I think he would find it easier to settle at Arsenal, for the obvious reason that so many French-speaking players are there, and it’s a proven choice for top Ligue 1 players. Manchester City is more of an unknown quantity for Ligue 1 players.
Who does he play like?
That’s a difficult one. Not Theo Walcott, that’s for sure. He’s much more of a finisher than Walcott. In a way, he’s not that dissimilar to Mamadou Niang when he was at Marseille: he would play on the left and cut in to score his goals, but he never liked to play through the middle. Andre-Pierre Gignac was the same, he said he’d rather be on the bench than play centre-forward at Marseille, and so they benched him. In terms of current Premier League players, it’s tough: maybe Dirk Kuyt, in terms of finishing, but he has more pace. Like Kuyt, you can always see with Gervinho why the coach has picked him. He makes things happen.
Why hasn’t he come sooner?
This is the right time for him. He’s now had two years at Lille, and he was never going to leave last summer as the club was clearly going places. The fact he’s not done it in Europe yet is not his fault, Lille were knocked out of the Europa League. But he’s now 24, still has plenty to prove, so it’s a good time for him to go. Think of someone like Robert Pires, he didn't join Arsenal until he was 27, so he’s a good age.
What do you think he can bring to Arsenal that they don't already have?
What Arsenal would get is a player who will get into double figures for goals and assists, while not playing as their main striker. That is the type of player who can elevate with you with his figures, he could make the difference between coming fourth and second. He moves instinctively in the box and though he can miss chances, he’s a good finisher.
If Arsenal sign Gervinho this summer, will it help them at all in the race for Eden Hazard?
I think Arsenal would have to improve dramatically to get Hazard. He’s a very confident guy and for me, Arsenal would have to show him that they are better than fourth in the Premier League if they want to sign him. Hazard has said he prefers Spain anyway. It’s been reported that he supports Real Madrid, and is on Barcelona’s reserve list of targets, so those two would have first choice on him. Lille would never consider selling both players this summer anyway, and at the moment, I would say Gervinho is more suited to Arsenal’s level than Hazard.
More great Arsenal stories
Click here for more Arsenal stories
Click here for more Football and Sport stories
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook