Exclusive interview: Pepe the Answer to the Welbeck problem?
As Danny Welbeck sadly was stretchered off the pitch from the game vs Sporting in Portugal, many a heart broke for the England international who seems to be constantly on the comeback trail from an injury. Welbeck is expected to be out potentially for the rest of the season but at least most of it sadly with a broken ankle.
Arsenal are now desperate for a third attacker who can play upfront or on either flank and the search is rumoured to have led them at Lille forward, Nicolas Pepe.
To find out more about the highly rated Ivory Coast international, I spoke to French Football Writer and Podcaster for Get French Football News (GFFN) and French Football Weekly, Rich Allen.
Ok so Nicolas Pepe tell us a bit about him, how long you have known of him and what is the perception of him in France?
He is currently hot property in France after an excellent start to the season with Lille. His breakthrough came with Angers and despite interest from big clubs outside of France; he elected to move to Lille. Whilst Lille had nothing short of a disastrous campaign last season in which they left it late to avoid relegation, Pepe was one of the few remotely bright spots. He was deployed predominantly in a central forward role that whilst still being able to be effective is by far his favoured position.
In a much brighter Lille side, he has thrived playing in his preferred wide right role where his pace and dribbling ability come into their own. His movement is also excellent and all this combined with improved finishing means it is no huge surprise to see him playing so well. He has already scored eight goals and assisted seven as he has lead Lille to an impressive 2nd place so far. The big clubs are once again circling but Pepe seems to have a wise head, as he and the club have appeared to rule out a January departure as the player is determined to see out the season in Ligue 1.
Just watching Pepe personally, I get a vibe of Thierry Henry, is that a fair comparison to make or are there other players you would think he is more like?
Henry comparisons might be a stretch other than he is a wide player who is fond of cutting in. I guess they are both comfortable on the ball and running at players. However whereas Henry relied on pace a bit more, I think Pepe has better movement off the ball.
As you said before there are a few clubs queuing up for Nicolas Pepe now but with Welbeck being injured, Arsenal are reported to have made a move for him, have you heard anything about this or his intentions for the future?
Pepe has said that he does not want a move in January and with Lille looking like they might finish in the top three I cannot see them selling, but a move in the summer looks highly likely. Arsenal’s interest seems genuine and with a right-winger, seemingly an area they need to look at, Pepe would be a good fit.
You can find Rich Allen on twitter at @rich_allen85 among many other places