Arsenal: Is it time to move on from Nicolas Pepe?

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JULY 13: Nicolas Pepe of Arsenal during the Pre-Season Friendly between Hibernian and Arsenal at Easter Road on July 13, 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JULY 13: Nicolas Pepe of Arsenal during the Pre-Season Friendly between Hibernian and Arsenal at Easter Road on July 13, 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images) /

When Arsenal announced the signing of Lille winger Nicolas Pepe on a five-year deal worth a club-record £72m fee, there was unbridled excitement surrounding his arrival.

The club was getting a winger who tore the French league apart, but it was his price tag that raised the eyebrows of fans and pundits alike. Seen as a world-class winger to bring goals and trickery to an Arsenal side that was oozing attacking talent, the jury was still out as to whether Pepe was the right signing by the Gunners.

In his 95 Arsenal appearances, Pepe has only scored 25 goals. Not exactly ‘world-class’. However, when coming to a new league, players usually get a period to adjust. When you cost a club-record fee, that window is significantly smaller.

The Ivorian has shown a glimpse of his talent but it has never been a consistent part of his game in north London, something that has irked fans for a while now. Pepe would have a superb game where he was lively, scored and defenders couldn’t handle him, only for the next three weeks to go completely missing.

Is it time Arsenal moved on from Nicolas Pepe and sold him as the Ivorian has never hit the heights expected of him since his £72m move?

When a club spends that amount of money on a player – it’s known Arsenal overpaid by some £20m or so – you expect results right away and this has not been the case with Pepe since he signed in 2019, even if he has no control over his fee.

In his debut 2019/20 season at the Emirates, the winger (inside forward, if we’re being pedantic) only found the back of the net eight times in his 42 appearances while providing ten assists. In the Premier League, Pepe scored five goals from 31 games which is not good enough for a player thought to be of extreme quality.

But it was his first year so Pepe was cut some slack by the fans and media personalities as they take the new country, new league, team, and manager into account. Nonetheless, Pepe did show flashes that made fans believe they had a real star on our hands.

With his debut season now behind him, having a year and another full pre-season under his belt, the 2020/21 season was meant to be his year. While he did improve his numbers, for many it still wasn’t quite there.

Pepe made 47 appearances in all competitions for Arsenal, scoring 16 goals and recording five assists. Only ten of those goals came in the league in 29 games, so while that doesn’t look too bad on paper, it is worth noting that four of those goals came in the last two matches against Crystal Palace and Brighton. So in 27 games, the Ivorian has scored just six goals.

It was an uneven but ultimately poor year for Arsenal’s record signing with his better performances coming in the Europa League, scoring six goals, and laying on four assists in 13 games. However, Arsenal didn’t sign him to play well in the Europa League, they wanted it in the Premier League and his European form never carried into the league campaign.

His red card against Leeds after he headbutted Ezgjan Alioski drew that wrath of Mikel Arteta post-game and the Arsenal supporters took to social media to vent their anger as it was at an important time in Arsenal’s season and he let them down. Badly.

Now we get into the current season and the narrative that surrounds Nicolas Pepe has not drifted too far from the original thinking. In his six games (five in the league) Pepe has only scored once (in the EFL Cup) and assisted twice.

Pepe was on the bench as an unused substitute for Arsenal’s clash with Tottenham as Arteta decided to go with Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang upfront instead. Pepe then made a 27-minute cameo against Brighton in a hard-fought draw but didn’t offer much as the home side was on top. He isn’t a starting lineup player. Not here.

With still a couple of years left on the Ivorian’s contract as he enters his third year, to say he has underwhelmed would be an understatement, so what does Arsenal do? Shop him around and try and recoup some of the money or stick with him and hope his form skyrockets? It’s a crucial period in the timeline as at the end of this campaign he enters that elusive two-year zone: renew or sell?

It is certainly a problem for Arteta and Arsenal as several players are ahead of him in the pecking order.

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The season shapes as a defining one for Nicolas Pepe. Start scoring goals and producing consistent performances worthy of your price tag otherwise he could be the latest name to be pushed through the Emirates door. No club will ever pay over the odds for him, something Arsenal might have to accept.