14 April 2013

Gervinho Reverts to Form, Poldi Answers the Call

After a run of sparkling performances, Gervinho fell back to Earth against Norwich on Sunday, reminding us all of the many frustrating gaps in his gamepoor touches, hesitation, bad decisions, and so on. It was revealing of Wenger's frustration that, at a time when our need for more offense became more urgent, Gervinho was subbed off, an admission that he was not in the kind of form we needed. More tellingly, his sub Lukas Podolski was an impact player almost from the moment he took the field. Whether this is enough to see Gervinho dropped and Podolski restored is up to Wenger, but with a tough match against Everton in two days, it's unlikely that the Ivorian showed enough on the ball to lay claim to a starting position. It may be harsh after three strong games, but that's football. His replacement helped to turn the game around, and with Walcott's return to fitness, there's little room for sentiment in these decisions.

A two-minute sequence in the first half sums up Gervinho's afternoon. He had two glorious chances to put Arsenal ahead and wasted both, each one highlighting key flaws in Gervinho's game. In the first, at the 26th minute, Gervinho stole the ball on the left wing and charged forward. As he got inside the 18, he had two defenders between him and goal, and he had at one point three open teammates filling lanesRamsey, Giroud, and Cazorla. Gervinho danced on the ball, and with his extreme right-footedness, coughed up the ball, a moment so frustrating that Ramsey and Cazorla slap the ground angrily with both hands while Giroud looks to the sky in despair. The reactions of Ramsey and Cazorla seem born of frustration deeper than from just this moment (Ramsey's in particular, as he is usually about as demonstrative as warm lettuce).

Two minutes later, Cazorla, showing immense faith in Gervinho, offers an absolutely beautiful through-ball from midfieldmidfield, mind you—which meets Gervinho right at the top of the box. With Bunn caught out in mid-charge. all Gervinho had to do was tap it (and how Bunn didn't guess that Gervinho was going to his own right stuns me) and dribble on in. There wasn't a defender within ten yards of the play. However, Gervinho, perhaps mindful of how many sitters he's missed, decided to make it harder for himself and put his first touch so far out to the side that he had to take a shot from outside the six and barely a yard off the end-line. At this angle, the best he could do was scuff it harmlessly across the mouth of an open goal. The first touch, then, seemed heavier than the shot, which petered out as it rolled out of bounds, coming to a stop just outside the six.

There were others, to be sure. The first was a chance, and even a pass to a teammate would not have guaranteed a goal, but making that pass would have been the smarter play. The poor touch, while it could happen to anyone, happens to Gervinho with such regularity that it's hard to be generous. These lapses also further erode his fragile confidence, and I'd suggest he needs a break rather than risking another poor performance on Tuesday. 


When Podolski came in, he had a near-immediate impact on the game. However, his first was a lamentable one, as a cross fell to his feet right at the six, but it must have been too soon for him and he was caught off-guard as it glanced away. In the 77th minute, though, Podolski almost broke the game open with a cannon-like shot that Bunn just barely got a finger to, just enough to deflect the ball off the crossbar. It was a nice bit of work from Giroud, who chested the ball off to Podolski to strike, evidence of their ability to work well together. 


Podolski came close to tallying ten minutes later when he had a nifty little 1-2 with the Ox, and he almost finished Ox's cross, missing by a hair only to see Giroud finish it anyway. As with the previous chance, he showed no hesitation, made the right decision, and we took the lead with his help. But he wasn't done. With six minutes of stoppage-time added, an insurance goal was called for, and Podolski answered. Collecting a nice pass from Walcott, who had fought his way across the box, Podolski took two touches before splitting tow defenders witth a well-placed curler past Bunn to seal the deal.


I won't go so far as to call Podolski's finishing "clinical" but he certainly showed a stronger sense for how to shoot and when. His blasted shot was enough to go in or create a rebound (sadly, no one was on the right side to follow), and his goal showed deftness as he went for touch rather than power.  All told, then, a tough afternoon for Gervinho, and a glittering cameo from Podolski, who showed no trace of the injuries that have slowed him of late. He's one of our best finishers, and his pace, workrate, and sense of the game were strong enough today to earn him some game-time against Everton.