Why is Gervinho ahead of Andrei Arshavin?

Richard Heathcote

Andrei Arshavin looks more threatening than Gervinho, but why is the Ivorian the first off the bench?

It's 75 minutes into the match. Arsenal are drawing, and really need a goal and 3 points. The first change is to bring Gervinho on. It's happened now three times in the past month: at home to QPR, and away at Aston Villa and Everton. In the first game, Gervinho got injured and was replaced by Andrei Arshavin. In the second game, Arshavin came on after Gervinho. In the third game, Arshavin wasn't even on the bench. Yet, who is more likely to provide the breakthrough that Arsenal need? Based on his form in wide positions this season, it certainly won't be Gervinho, who has made almost all of his offensive contributions in the centre forward position, having scored six times and only assisted once. With Theo Walcott on the pitch, Arsenal already had their goal-scoring wide forward on the pitch.

Andrei Arshavin, on the other hand, already has 4 assists this season in limited playing time, and created Arsenal's winner against Queens Park Rangers. He's created more chances on a per-game basis than Gervinho (.8 to .7, but small sample size alert) and has generally looked a sharp threat when coming on. Against Aston Villa, he shaped in two excellent balls; against Aston Villa, Gervinho's first touch was to dribble the ball over the goal line, and his second touch ballooned the ball over the touch line.

And that's the thing about Gervinho, and about Andrei Arshavin. Gervinho almost always does the same thing now; dribble to the byline, slow play down, then cut the ball back. Sometimes it works, especially against defences not used to it. Most times, though, it doesn't, which is perhaps why Wenger has put him in a more central role this season, hoping that Gervinho can dribble past centre backs to get into goal-scoring positions. Andrei Arshavin has a lot more flair, and a lot more variety. And while Arshavin is not the best defensively, and can be careless with the ball, he's been dispossessed and turned the ball over less times per game than Gervinho has, in both this season and last season. Combined with his better creativity, it seems to outweigh whatever superior defensive contributions Gervinho can bring.

A perfect case in point is when Arsenal had the chance to counter in the 92nd minute of today's game. Gervinho received the ball from Jack Wilshere, and got slightly ahead of Phil Jagielka. As the picture below shows, he's got Theo Walcott in space, but instead of playing Walcott in, he decides to continue with the ball, and gets tackled in the box by Jagielka, winning Arsenal a corner. Arsenal don't generally score from corners; they do, though, have a good record with Theo Walcott one on one on goal. And, in all likelihood, Andrei Arshavin would've played the pass, because Andrei Arshavin is a creative player, not a Dribbly McNocoreorassist like Gervinho. And that is why it is very odd indeed why Arshavin is behind Gervinho. He might not deserve the chance to start, but he deserves the chance to be the decisive substitute instead of Gervinho.

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