Easter rising for frustrating Gervinho?

Arsenal 4 Reading 1

Easter rising for frustrating Gervinho?

In many ways he has come to symbolise the frustrations of a club that has under-performed on the pitch and in the transfer market; so there is more than a sense of irony that the Ivorian could be end up being the man that saves their season.

The winger, who cost more than €11m from Lille, was Arsenal’s key performer on Saturday when he scored once and set up two more in a convincing victory against a Reading side heading for relegation.

The cynics will no doubt suggest it was typical Arsenal, free-flowing football and stylish goals when the pressure of winning a trophy has gone and the opposition is inferior. But nevertheless the result was significant because with eight games to go, and Chelsea on the wane, Wenger’s side are now well positioned to finish in the top four and at least guarantee Champions League football for 2013-’14.

Their remaining fixtures include matches against Norwich, QPR, Wigan and Newcastle with only a home game against Manchester United on April 28, by which time the Premier League trophy will almost certainly be gathering dust the Old Trafford cabinet, to generate any real concern.

Of course finishing in the top four wouldn’t be enough to pacify Arsenal’s frustrated fans at the end of another difficult and fruitless campaign; and it wouldn’t do anything more than paper over the deep-seated problems that have kept the club trophyless for so long. But it would certainly be a welcome sight of green shoots at the end of a long, long winter.

For Gevinho, in particular, it feels like a new beginning.

The Ivorian was never intended as a replacement for Robin van Persie but he has suffered nevertheless by comparison, especially as he was played up front for long spells early in the season when Arsenal stumbled from one disaster to another.

In truth he has suffered dog’s abuse from the terraces; whether the discussion was about the comedic qualities of his ball control or the haphazard nature of his finishing — fans across the Premier League have revelled in his pain.

But on Saturday his energy and attacking drive were exactly what Arsenal needed as he scored the opener before setting up further goals for Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud (Mikel Arteta also added one from the penalty spot) and he even received a standing ovation when he left the field.

So although Wenger admits it has been hard work rebuilding the player’s confidence, perhaps he is now seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

“My worry was that he played in front of a negative atmosphere here so you always think you persist with him to give him the confidence but you risk putting him further down if it doesn’t work,” said the Arsenal manager. “When he came on at Swansea last week he was lively. At Bayern he was lively and he scored the goal which gave him confidence again.

“We have worked with him mentally and of course on his finishing. He loves football. He is a hard worker. Physically, you cannot fault his effort.”

What Gervinho gives Arsenal when he plays well is a directness that is often lacking in other aspects of their play and he has contributed seven goals this season despite accusations that his finishing is lamentable.

“Honestly, he is not a clinical finisher but when he is completely relaxed he is quite good,” said Wenger. “He rushes his finishing because when he arrives in front of the goal he wants to, you know ‘get rid of that’. The big goalscorers just pass it in and that’s what he has to learn. We work with him in front of goal of course and it will get better and better. His finishing is linked with his psychology.”

That, of course, is Arsenal’s big problem — because it’s not just Gervino who has something ‘wrong with his head’ at the Emirates. The combination of Wenger’s transfer policy — choosing players who have potential but are not yet a finished product — together with the burden of going so long without a trophy has created a hugely difficult atmosphere in which to work. But Wenger feels there is now an end of season momentum that can move Arsenal forward.

“We believe since November we have created momentum but we’ve lost the decisive games,” he said.

“So the confidence we couldn’t quite catch. You play Man City, Man United, Chelsea, Tottenham and you lose, so the confidence drops. But against Bayern, you could see right away a massive lift and now we have to take advantage.”

If Gervinho can lead that revival it would certainly provide a fanciful, fairytale quality to the end of a campaign that has been more of a horror story until now for Wenger’s side. And although it’s tempting to shudder at the prospect of Arsenal’s Champions League hopes hanging on the Ivorian going one-on-one with Newcastle’s goalkeeper at St James’ Park on the last day of the season on May 19, maybe we should give him a break for now.

What better time for a new beginning than Easter Monday?

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