x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Gervinho uses African Cup of Nations to find his way at Arsenal again

The forward has rejuvenated himself at the African Cup of Nations and hopes to carry that momentum back to the Premier League, says Ian Hawkey.

Gervinho's runs has paid good dividends for Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations and he is hoping to carry that momentum back to Arsenal in the Premier League.
Gervinho's runs has paid good dividends for Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations and he is hoping to carry that momentum back to Arsenal in the Premier League.

More than 5,000 miles away from London and in another hemisphere, Gervinho checked as quickly as he could on Saturday between practice sessions and team-talks on how his club Arsenal had got on in the English Premier League match against Stoke City.

Much as his focus is centred this month on conquering the African Cup of Nations title that eluded his Ivory Coast by such a narrow margin a year ago, but he is anxious to get a measure of what the atmosphere will be like when he returns to Arsenal.

Better for him personally, he hopes, than in the period up to the new year.

As Arsenal were compiling some startling recent scorelines - seven goals against Newcastle United, five against Reading and West Ham United - celebrating the effectiveness of their new attacking signings Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski and finding a role for Theo Walcott at the spearhead of their attack through a snow-clad English mid-winter, Gervinho was quietly regaining his confidence and putting on a show in sun-baked Rustenburg, South Africa.

A potential Nations Cup player of the tournament so far, his goals - one each in the victories over Togo and Tunisia - guided Ivory Coast to early confirmation of their quarter-final place, where they meet Nigeria today.

I put to him that the Gervinho here seems a character transformed from the one who, after a promising start to his club season, had become somewhat marginalised at Arsenal by December.

He admits his self-belief had suffered a little by the time he set off to join his compatriots for the pre-Nations Cup camp in the UAE.

"First I had an injury that stopped my momentum, and after a good start [two goals against Southampton, one against Chelsea] I couldn't really get going again as quickly as I would have liked." he concedes.

"I had some criticism, too, in the press, which I was aware of. Coming here helped clear my head."

Inside that head, as followers of Ivory Coast, Lille or Arsenal would know, is a deep vault of creative imagination and clever instincts, but also some faulty valves that mean wrong decisions in key situations such as misconceived final passes or badly angled finishing.

What his teammates have seen over the past 11 days, though, are the best versions of Gervinho: The tormentor of full-backs, a man thinking one, two or three moves ahead.

He has been graceful but also incisive, man of the match in the 2-1 win over Togo that helped an otherwise sluggish Ivorian team begin their campaign with three points, imperial down both right and left flank in the 3-0 demolition of Tunisia.

Rested for the inconsequential final match against Algeria, so players with greater need of form - captain Didier Drogba among them - could seek it, Gervinho will be back in the starting XI against Nigeria for what he expects to be the most testing examination yet of The Elephants' status as tournament favourites.

"We always need to move on, correct errors and be in better and better shape," Gervinho says. "But we have the experience to know what we need to do in tournaments and we know each other well.

"This Ivory Coast team can deal with moments of adversity. We don't panic, we know our game and that the way we play, we are capable of scoring at any moment."

Cast an eye over the credentials of all the Ivorian strikers and that is indisputable, from the dominant Drogba to the lanky freshman Lacina Traore, via the prolific Wilfried Bony and the able Aroune Kone, this is a squad festooned with attacking ability, so much so that Gervinho said "there is more competition for places with my national team than at Arsenal".

There is also evident affection for Gervinho within the Ivorian squad.

Many players came through the same Asec Mimosas academy in Abidjan as he did.

"He has been outstanding for us," says Didier Zokora, the experienced midfielder, "and he has matured a lot in the last few years."

Setbacks have been a part of that growing up.

Gervinho was one of those who missed from the penalty spot when Ivory Coast lost, via a shoot-out, the 2012 Nations Cup final to Zambia.

He says those memories are erased, and hopes his buoyant start at this Nations Cup has ushered in not another week or so, but five months of peaking form.

"If I continue to have a good Nations Cup, I'll set off back to Arsenal with a lot of confidence." Gervinho says.

"I see all Arsenal's games while I am here. I follow what Arsene Wenger [Arsenal manager] is saying. We are a strong squad with very good players and I want to play a big part in the last three or four months of our season.

"But that starts, for me, only after February 10 [date of the final], when, I hope, we have the Nations Cup trophy."



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