He was the villain. Arsenal were losing and it was all his fault. After 5 goals in 7 games to start the season, Gervinho had lost all of his confidence, and we had lost all confidence in him. Today, the vivid memories of mid-season are still fresh: Gervinho receives the ball on a break, lets the opponent catch up, then proceeds to dribble into oblivion before inevitably giving it away. We still shall not speak of his unspeakable misses. He was yet another fragile-minded waste of money from Baguette FC in France, soon to be banished to Arsene Wenger's loan-list of no return.
But then he went to AFCON with Ivory Coast, his place in the squad assured, and he began to play. At the apex of the bad times with us he was ridiculously quoted comparing himself favorably with Thierry Henry. He rejoined the Arsenal bench, and has now scored twice in three matches, presenting the manager with a difficult selection decision ahead of Theo Walcott's return this weekend. Is this the new Gervinho? The old Gervinho? A new version of the old Gervinho?
Or maybe there's another possibility. That he's not a confidence player. That the peaks and valleys are but two sides of the same bizarre coin. Maybe we changed (or should change), and Gervinho has been the same the entire time.
He is a unique player. One for whom anything is possible, both for good and evil. Equally as capable of scoring the impossible goal as he is of missing the unmissable chance. The cynic would call it inconsistency, but the optimist could creatively describe his playing style as "entropic". Things happen when he plays. Compared with the maddening inconsistency and often non-existent contributions of Walcott and Podolski, the enigma begins to look like a respectable option.
He could miss an empty netter in the final match, damning us to fifth place and the accompanying midweek losses in Switzerland next season. Or he could score a hat-trick against United, putting an exclamation mark on what would be a remarkable end-of-the-year flourish. Or Walcott could play, and do the exact same thing, but in a manner much less representative of the tumultuous nature of Arsenal football.