Why Arsenal must cut their losses with Nicolas Pepe this summer

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JULY 13: Nicolas Pepe of Arsenal during a pre-season friendly between Hibernian and Arsenal at Easter Road on July 13, 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JULY 13: Nicolas Pepe of Arsenal during a pre-season friendly between Hibernian and Arsenal at Easter Road on July 13, 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images) /

Nicolas Pepe’s time in North London looks to be coming to an end this summer, with the club wanting to cut their losses and the player needing a change of scenery.

This will certainly go down as one of the worst transfers in Arsenal’s history with the Ivorian never coming close to living up to his massive £72m price tag. So, what happened? How did Arsenal manage to make such a transfer mistake, and why didn’t Pepe live up to the lofty expectations?

To start off, there was clearly a lot of drama behind the scenes of this transfer; Raul Sanllehi ended up losing his job, likely because of this deal and the money attached to it, and Unai Emery reportedly wanted Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha instead of Pepe.

Unwanted by the then-boss, it’s fair to say that Pepe’s Arsenal career didn’t get off to the warmest of starts. Combine that with the sketchiness of the transfer itself, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Arsenal must cut their losses with transfer flop Nicolas Pepe this summer


Pepe’s output has dipped considerably compared to his time in France. The Ivorian netted 13 and 22 league goals in his last two seasons with Lille but has seen those numbers decline to five, ten, and one in his three seasons with Arsenal.

Interestingly though, this drop should’ve been expected as only 13 of his 22 goals in his last season in Ligue 1 were through open play. Arsenal should have seen this in their scouting to know that he wasn’t a player you could rely on to score 15 open play goals in a season and therefore was not worth anywhere near the price paid for him.

Although, Pepe has performed around his xG in each of the last five seasons. He is an efficient enough goal scorer and obviously has talent, but it was never unlocked for Arsenal at the rate that many initially projected.

One of the reasons for this is Pepe’s predictability, tied to his overreliance on his left foot. Pepe is an excellent player on his left and unlike many players who are at least competent on their weaker foot, Pepe does not have that quality. This has made him predictable. When he reaches the 18-yard box from the right side he will try to cut onto his left most of the time, making it very easy for defenders to recognise and cut that angle down. Compare that to Bukayo Saka who can both cut inside for a shot with his left or dart to the byline and cross with his right. Defenders must be prepared for either option, which gives Saka more space to work with and be dangerous.

Arsenal under Mikel Arteta is simply not the right fit for the free-spirited Pepe. Playing possession-based football requires wide outlets to hold the ball in space or tight areas. Keeping possession is critical and that is far from one of Pepe’s strengths. The Ivorian thrives with the ball in space, typically on the break. Unfortunately, that is not the way Arsenal play. There is a reason why he is way more successful with the Ivory Coast than he is at Arsenal and that is because he is given the freedom to wreak havoc in transition.

With that, Pepe’s also unable to hold down the wing on his own. Saka can be isolated down the right flank without a supporting overlap or an interior outlet which is what makes him so much more suited for the role down Arsenal’s right than Pepe. Pepe has badly needed an overlap from a full-back in the final third to unlock the space that he is able to thrive in, and that is just not always a guarantee with Arteta’s adoration for inverted full-backs like Takehiro Tomiyasu.

In summary, Nicolas Pepe is a talented player but one whose deficiencies mean he’ll never quite garner the trust of Mikel Arteta. His lofty price tag and subsequent expectations were out of the player’s control, but Pepe hasn’t done enough himself to convince supporters that he’s worth keeping for the long haul.

It’s time for Arsenal to accept defeat and cut their losses with the club-record signing.