When Arsenal signed Nicolas Pepe from Lille in a £72m transfer, they were bringing in one of the most prolific wingers in Europe to bolster their ranks.
Coming to Arsenal with a big reputation to his name, his 22 league goals (Transfermarkt) for Lille last season put him behind only PSG star Kylian Mbappe (33) and ahead of the likes of Edinson Cavani (18) and Neymar (15).
14 games into his debut season and all we’ve seen are occasional glimpses and flashing of brilliance. Someone with the quality, but clearly lacking the final piece of a proper “end product”.
Even worse is the fact that till date, he still isn’t a mainstay in the Arsenal lineup and it’s safe to say he’s not a first-team player – yet.
Once again, the Ivorian wasn’t called upon during the draw at Carrow Road, with his new coach revealing his efforts off the pitch have not been impressive enough.
The Gunners twice had to struggle from a goal down to get the point at Carrow Road, with Pierre Emerick Aubameyang twice cancelling out strikes from Teemu Pukki and Todd Cantwell.
As the away side chased a victory in the second half, Ljungberg opted to bring on 18-year-old attackers Bukayo Sako and Gabriel Martinelli, leaving Pepe sitting in his tracksuit on the bench – spotting a dejected look as well.
When asked about the decision to shun the Ivory Coast winger, Ljungberg revealed he decides his team selection on what he sees at training.
“[Nicolas] Pepe is a very good player but I try to go off what I see in training and what’s being done everyday and that’s how I judge,” Ljungberg said after his first match in charge following the sacking of Unai Emery.
It was the third time in the past month Pepe has remained on the bench, with the Ivorian also failing to be used in the draws against Wolves and Eintracht Frankfurt.
Arsenal already had two class forwards in Aubameyang and Lacazette before opting to make a move for yet another marquee attacker. If the intent was to be more devastating up front, why put Pepe on the bench in the first place?
It’s somewhat ironic that the club’s record signing coming off his best season is struggling to get minutes despite the reputation on his name. Clearly a player of his calibre has a proven quality and should not be judged simply based on “training performances”.
Ljungberg suddenly drafted Mustafi into the lineup after the German had failed to feature in the league for the Gunners so far this season. Does this mean Mustafi had all of a sudden displayed prime “Tony Adams-esque” abilities in training?
All of these simply saying that a player’s quality is a given and regardless of whatever the training shows, we know what players can deliver on the pitch.
Pepe has struggled to settle at the Emirates and it could be based on lack of confidence on the part of the Ivorian. Although it has to be pointed how a player would gain confidence if he isn’t given the chance to do so in the first place.
The fact that none of his three goals so far have come from open play means there is still a lot to be realised from him when he hits full gear and starts scoring goals.
Against Norwich, Lacazette wasn’t anywhere close to his best and the ideal substitution was to take off the Frenchman and bring in Pepe considering Arsenal were in search of a goal. Snubbing Pepe in that instance shows more to it and since Ljungberg was present in the Emery era as well, maybe there is something he has observed in Pepe since the start of the season.
However it may be, Arsenal need to get him to top gear soon enough or Pepe might ultimately end up as a “bad signing”. Not every player adapts to the EPL from the onset but at this rate of scarce game time, it’s a no-brainer that Pepe would remain with a lack of confidence still.
Arsenal have a game-changer waiting on the bench and with Pepe in full gear as well, they could have goals from all angles up front, easing the dependence on Aubameyang and Lacazette to a great extent.