When Nicolas Pepe signed for a club record fee, an understandably jubilant mood came over the Arsenal faithful.
During Unai Emery’s reign, the side’s unimaginative attack was becoming increasingly obvious as time went on, and the Ivorian was just the unpredictable Jack-in-the-box Arsenal needed. The season before moving to north London, Pepe had a blinder of a campaign and was seen as the second best player of the season in Ligue 1 after bagging 22 goals and managing 11 assists in 38 league matches.
The potency of Pepe in that great season attracted interest from a number of suitors and Arsenal winning the contentious race for his coveted signature was supposed to improve us going forward immeasurably. However, Pepe has failed to pull up any trees since signing, and while I personally find the ‘flop’ label both premature and incorrect, it’s easy to see where those with such a belief are coming from.
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Pepe was supposed to be the all-round winger the side needed so desperately, but he’s running out of time to prove that he is. It may not even be any fault of his. The struggles of Pepe could be down to a number of reasons, but from my perspective the one that seems the most likely is Mikel Arteta being unsure of how to use him.
There is no two ways around it, Pepe is quite simply not an industrious ‘chalk on the boots’ variety of winger. He specializes in utilizing the space between the striker and a much wider player like a full-back or wing-back. His eye for goal, coupled with the impressive ability to put his teammates in to score, indicate that the closer he is to the opposition net, the better.
Against Dundalk, Pepe was so wide that he could probably hear the buzzing of the advertising boards wrapped around the Emirates pitch. That’s not where the former Lille man belongs and his positioning left me and I’m sure many others quite flummoxed.
The solvent to the Pepe conundrum could be deploying a system similar to one Arsene Wenger often did where either Olivier Giroud or Danny Welbeck was between Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean and German were much closer to the striker and the duty of wide play was left predominately to the full-backs. Pepe coming from the right, in the space Özil used to occupy, would allow the struggling winger a number of opportunities to put whomever the striker is in for goal. He’d undoubtedly slot some in for himself as well.
Pepe can be a real asset for Arteta and the red half of north London if he is tasked with doing what he is best at. Having a player like Pepe so far wide is frankly a waste of his talent and I genuinely hold the belief that the Ivorian can one day be the club’s best player.
However, that will not ever happen until the manager learns how to use him properly.