In the social media era, every new signing gets scrutinised from the top to bottom in a reckless way. Errors are often magnified and the good often goes unnoticed. And if the transfer fee for the player is huge, it reaches another level. The same has happened with Arsenal’s summer signing Nicolas Pepe. But a lot of it has been unfair on the former Lille star.
Some of it comes from how he was taking time to settle in initially. One of his misses in the Gunners’ 1-0 loss to Sheffield United went viral and comparisons were made to Fernando Torres’ miss against Man Utd in 2011. That wasn’t the only reason for his spell being portrayed as a ‘poor’ one. Arsenal’s situation this season has hardly been of any help either.
Under former manager Unai Emery, Pepe didn’t know what exactly his best position was. It was largely down to Emery not knowing what his side’s best formation was. As a result, Pepe did start as a striker against Liverpool and Watford. A miss from close range against the Reds didn’t help either.
But after Emery’s axing, Pepe has found his position- what he always was at Lille on the right wing. In all competitions this season, Pepe has contributed to nine goals, scoring five goals and racking up four assists as well. That isn’t a prolific number by any means, but he’s been a very good player for the club in recent months. A lot of his contributions have been game-changing.
One of those contributions came against Vitoria in the Europa League. Pepe came on in the second-half under Emery to score two free-kicks and win the game 3-2. After the game Emery praised Pepe.
He said: “He is improving and tonight he has two goals, which are important for us and for him. He’s continuing the adaptation in his process and as soon as he can adapt, that’s better for us. The most important thing is the three points and that some individual players can improve, that they can take confidence for us and for them.”
He might not be scoring too many goals, but the threat he brings to the plate deserves more credit. Against Burnley, for example, Pepe came on in the second-half to complete four dribbles and win two tackles.
Against Sheffield United themselves, Pepe brought a lot to the plate than just the missed goal. He completed five dribbles, winning four tackles and also winning two aerial duels. He worked hard, even when he couldn’t score. That shows a lot about his attitude and how much he wants to succeed.
There have been inconsistencies and there was meant to be, considering it is his first season. But Pepe has always done well in big games. Against Chelsea recently, he was a key outlet from the right side. He had a tally of three dribbles and one tackle. Silently, he was one of the reasons why Arsenal got a point from the game.
Behind Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Pepe has contributed to the most goals at the club. He has completed the highest number of dribbles per game-3, 1.4 more than second-placed Hector Bellerin. Pepe has completed the second-highest key passes per game at 1.2, only behind Mesut Ozil.
Those are key attributes to an attacking player. For a side that hasn’t had the best of seasons, Pepe has shown enough glimpses to prove that he hasn’t been as bad as the social media makes him out to be. He is certainly taking his time and did make mistakes in front of goal early in the season. But it is a part of the process of him becoming better next season- when Arsenal become a better team.
Once the club acquires stability, the club’s best players will become better. Pepe will be one of them.