Arsenal: Scouting report on Nicolas Pepe

FARO, PORTUGAL - JULY 20: LOSC Lille forward Nicolas Pepe from Ivory Coast (L) tries to escape FC Porto defender Alex Telles from Brazil (R) during the match between FC Porto v LOSC Lille for Algarve Football Cup 2018 at Estadio do Algarve on July 20, 2018 in Faro, Portugal. (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
FARO, PORTUGAL - JULY 20: LOSC Lille forward Nicolas Pepe from Ivory Coast (L) tries to escape FC Porto defender Alex Telles from Brazil (R) during the match between FC Porto v LOSC Lille for Algarve Football Cup 2018 at Estadio do Algarve on July 20, 2018 in Faro, Portugal. (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images) /

With a medical this week looking imminent, let’s break down Nicolas Pepe, Arsenal’s new record signing, and what he will contribute to the club.

Everyone has heard the terrific stats of Nicolas Pepe, the man set to shatter Arsenal‘s transfer record: 22 goals in Ligue 1, second only to Kylian Mbappe. 11 assists reflect his incredibly strong and underrated passing ability which is further evidenced thanks to his sharp vision on the pitch.

The 22 goals he contributed to a side that finished second to PSG reflect a large step up from the 13 he scored the previous season when Lille just barely avoided relegation. The 2016/2017 season he scored a measly three goals while on loan at Angers in Ligue 1. These stats reflect his rapid progression as a player and despite being 24 and seemingly in the peak of his career, Pepe is still somewhat raw and his best days are certainly ahead of him.

His pace, dribbling and finishing are clearly the main strengths of his game and are what propelled him to his stellar 2018/2019 season.

His tremendous ability as an athlete, not just his sheer pace but also an ability to use his body and shield the ball as well as his phenomenal jumping and change of direction, should see Arsenal become one of the most athletically explosive sides in the league.

Yes, he is incredibly one-footed and although it can be worrisome and limiting to certain players such as Mesut Ozil or Granit Xhaka, wingers do have a tendency to be able to get away with being one-footed more than midfielders do. Arjen Robben, Mo Salah and even Leo Messi are all examples of players whose almost exclusively left-footed approach remains hard to stop due to their quickness and manipulation of defenders using body faints and quick dribbling moves.

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Pepe possess an innate ability to charge at defenders with his magic wand of a left foot but also to maneuver his way through traffic with that quick left foot as well as with his aforementioned athletic ability.

The finishing ability that he displays week in and week out is astonishing. Pepe boasts an incredibly impressive quick snapshot, vital to being a goalscorer in the Premier League where space and defenders are constantly closing in around you. His ability to create a yard of separation and, in that brief moment, to fire a quick shot into the bottom corner, is nearly impossible to stop.

With all that being said, it is important to look at the weaknesses of a player we are throwing out £72m on over the course of the next five seasons.

As I previously mentioned, Pepe is incredibly one-footed and although he and other players have the tools to make it work, he would no doubt be an unstoppable force if his right foot was even close to his left in terms of ability. Defenders consistently stand to the left of him, urging him to go right which he often hesitates to do.

If Pepe were to work more on his right foot, a fake left and explode right move would be essentially impossible to stop with his incredible pace and the defenders so heavily anticipating him charging forward on his left side.

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In addition to this, his first touch is not particularly sharp. When he first controls the ball it often goes a step or two behind him which can be crucial when swarmed with aggressive, physical defenders in the Premier League.

Alexis Sanchez had a similar problem at Arsenal but he made it work due to his shiftiness and ability to get his body in between the ball and defenders. If Pepe can grow accustomed to the higher tempo of English football where he will have to protect his sometimes loose touches from oncoming defenders, then he should have very few problems making the transition from Ligue 1 to the Premier League.

Arsenal splashing out £72m on a single player while still boasting major flaws in the back is quite bold and risky but still exciting to many fans. It seems as if the club remain confident of landing Kieran Tierney, but that a centre back would have to wait until the next transfer period.

Due to the structure of the deal, Pepe is not actually preventing Arsenal from doing more business this summer since they are spending £14.4m on the deal per year over the course of the next five seasons. Pepe’s unique skill set as well as his exciting potential make this the first iconic signing of the Unai Emery era.

Emery’s signing in the previous Summer transfer period were all very good signings (with the exception of Lichtsteiner) but none of them were over roughly £25m and a record breaking £72m deal can either make or break a manager, depending on how the player performs.

With this signing Arsenal do remain incredibly weak and vulnerable at the back but obviously, that is not what this deal is for. Arsenal will boast a potent front three with Lacazette acting as the skillful, crafty target that Pepe and Aubameyang will make darting runs off of. It also enables the Gunners to commit more numbers back on defense, especially in the midfield where they can shield the weaker back line and counter attack with the front three without having to commit those midfielders or outside backs too far forward.

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The team will be full of natural goal-scorers who can stretch the opposition defense with their athleticism and attacking runs on and off the ball. With Pepe hopefully completing his medical and being presented as an Arsenal player this week, opposition defenses have reason to be afraid as the Gunners will no doubt possess one of the most threatening attacks in Europe next season.