LONDON, (Reuters) – The doom-mongers predicted big trouble for Arsenal when Robin van Persie packed his bags and headed for Old Trafford in the summer but perhaps they need not have worried.
Gervinho, who spent his first season in north London very much in the shadow of the Dutch master, is suddenly re-discovering the form that tempted manager Arsene Wenger to sign him from Lille while in Germany’s Lukas Podolski, they boast one of the most natural goal predators in Europe.
With the prolific Van Persie banging in 37 goals last season, the “one-man team” jibe was often directed at Arsenal but his departure, unpopular as it was with fans, may have paved the way for a genuine strike partnership to evolve.
Gervinho managed just four Premier League goals last season and none in the Champions League and the Ivorian found himself consigned to the bench for long periods after returning from the African Nations Cup early this year.
He appeared something of a misfit and few of the club’s supporters would ever have thought that he could go anywhere near plugging the gap left by Van Persie.
After he scored the opener in Arsenal’s unconvincing 3-1 victory over Olympiakos in the Champions League on Wednesday to continue his early-season form there are signs that the hard-working player, signed more as a wide man, is winning them over.
He has now scored five goals in his last five games, three in the Premier League and two in Europe.
“He is scoring goals, so his confidence is sky high,” assistant manager Steve Bould said of Gervinho, who also set up Podolksi’s crucial second goal early in the second half against Olympiakos.
“I think his link-up play is gradually improving. He is learning his trade at centre forward. I don’t think he has played there an awful lot and he is a danger with his pace and movement at times. He could be a top player.”
He will have to go some to get anywhere near the levels of another winger transformed into a centre forward by Wenger, one Thierry Henry, but his form and his understanding with Podolski and Spanish playmaker Santi Cazorla mean that Arsenal’s goal tally this season will be less reliant on one man.
“If he gets anywhere near Thierry Henry we’ll take that all day long,” Bould added. “He is learning and doing OK. I’m delighted.”
Podolski’s impact is less of a surprise. While lacking the pace and flair of Van Persie, he displaying the same eye for goal that has made him one of the Bundesliga’s most reliable marksmen and a fixture in the Germany team since 2004.
“He really is deadly and long may that continue,” Bould said.
Arsenal top Group B of the Champions League with six points and with a double-header against Schalke to come, are in pole position to qualify for the last 16.