Nicolas Pepe was on every club’s wish list in the summer. A stellar campaign for LOSC Lille saw him score 22 and assist 11 in 38 games. European champions Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Manchester United were all strongly linked. A fee had been agreed between Napoli and Lille according to multiple reports at the time. However, when Arsenal broke the bank and announced his signature for a club record £72 million, they made a massive statement of ambition.
A mixed bag so far…
Since the move, the Ivorian has endured a mix period at the Emirates in a, fair to say, tumultuous season for the club. There have been bursts of brilliance and sheer class from the 24 year old. The two stunning back to back free kicks to win the game against Vitoria. The world class curling finish cutting in from the right against West Ham. However, there have also been several instances where Pepe has been poor in games. Losing the ball, lacking end product, or simply just not having an impact on the game.
But do we need to cut the former Lille attacker some slack? The transition from Ligue 1 to the Premier League isn’t always easy. The physicality, pace and general standard of football in the English top flight is a different level to France. Not every player can hit the ground running, some require time. It’s unfair to scrutinise every touch of a player making his debut as a club record signing in the world’s toughest league.
Nicolas Pepe – Unfairly criticised?
Moreover, the statistics on paper aren’t terrible as such for Pepe. 2 goals and 3 assists in 15 Premier League games isn’t a complete disaster. Not at all. It’s a respectable return for the first half of the season. We can break it down further too. 2.1 shots and 1.3 key passes per game isn’t bad. Granted, you expect more from a player with the reputation of Nicolas Pepe. But it’s not the car crash people on social media are suggesting.
When you watch him play, you see flashes of brilliance and why he’s so highly rated. He’s trying to create things and run at defenders. Unfortunately for him, it hasn’t worked out as he would’ve wanted so far. We also have to take into account he arrived in North London late, without a pre-season and was thrown the deep end. When you’re having to play in a side lacking creativity in midfield, you end up feeding off scraps.
Patience is key
I’m not going to sugarcoat the 20 time capped Ivory Coast international. He hasn’t set the league alight, has missed huge chances in games and occasionally been completely anonymous. Also, scoring just one goal from open play isn’t impressive whatsoever. But he’s not the only one in that Arsenal team having a bad season and, being his first season in England, he deserves patience. In a nutshell, he hasn’t been great or justified his price tag yet. However, he hasn’t been as bad as people are suggesting.
We’ve seen what he’s capable of in France, hence why everyone was in for him. As a result, I still think the best is yet to come from a dangerous winger capable of tearing defences to shreds. Under a new manager, who looks like Mikel Arteta, with consistent game time, I think the penny will drop for Nicolas Pepe.
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