£72m. There. Due to tradition, Nicolas Pepe’s price tag must always be mentioned and now that that’s out of the way, we can talk about the player. The player Arsenal wanted, the player we started to see and the player we have now.
Halfway through his second season, Nicolas Pepe has yet to fully secure a starting spot. And it’s not all his fault. He came to the wrong place at the wrong time and had not one, but two wrong managers.
Arsenal have struggled against low blocks in recent years and wingers are crucial in providing the width necessary to stretch defenses. In his breakout season at Lille, however, Pepe starred as a counterattacking player, racing forward into space and scoring clinically against a defense in disarray. At Arsenal, he’s being asked to dribble through banks of four or five players.
The Ivorian also came at a time when chaos was the true manager at Arsenal. Players were discontent, the manager was incomprehensible and clear-cut chances were few and far between. Any acclimatization period was always going to take longer if a foreign player was thrust into an environment as toxic as Arsenal’s was during Unai Emery’s reign.
Nicolas Pepe will flourish at Arsenal under the right guidance
Let’s switch over to Mikel Arteta, the man who was supposed to transform Pepe into a player capable of terrorizing defenses week in and week out. I love both Arteta and Pepe, but the winger has been woefully mismanaged.
After proving to be crucial in our FA Cup run, how does Pepe feel being dropped immediately for Willian, arguably one of the most disastrous signings in recent history? How is he supposed to develop any consistency if he can’t even start back-to-back games? How can he play with confidence if his manager publicly berates him at a press conference after a (admittedly stupid) red card?
How is he supposed to create and score if he’s forced to hug the touchline so Hector Bellerin can be some fancy inverted full-back? We saw in the league match against Southampton how well he can do if he is allowed by the manager to drift inside. Play him. Give him some freedom.
To affect games, he needs support, players who can pass the ball forward. Most of his games have forced him picking the ball up deep with the opposing team already in shape. And now that we can finally move the ball forward and a little quicker, he can’t even start or come off the bench before Willian.
It looks increasingly likely that Pepe will leave the club soon and it’s a shame he didn’t have the impact we all thought he was going to have.