Arsenal’s record-breaking acquisition of Lille forward Nicolas Pepe ahead of some top European clubs stunned many. It looked for a long time as if Wilfried Zaha would be the man making the move to the Emirates before news broke on the 27th July that Arsenal had agreed an €80m fee for Pepe.
So what does this mean for Arsenal in terms of shape and style? Well – the addition of Pepe fits the bill for a player who adds skill, pace and dynamism as pointed out by Arsenal’s analysis team – something which the team has lacked for large parts since the days of Sanchez and Walcott, and which has resulted in the decline of away wins and the lack of ability to break down teams at home.
There has been a lot of talk whether Arsenal should’ve spent similar money on a top quality centre back, but in reality a wide forward had always been a top priority for me, especially as Mkhitaryan and Iwobi produced some poor numbers in terms of goals and assists last season, and our last out and out wide forward to make a high contribution to attacking numbers was Alexis Sanchez (who hasn’t been replaced at all).
Nicolas Pepe scored 22 goals and made 11 assists in Ligue 1 last season, a goal tally only bettered by Kylian Mbappe. The Ivorian, in my opinion, is absolutely everything that Arsenal have been crying out for in a wide player. His numbers are outstanding, he has attempted more dribbles that Iwobi and Mkhitaryan combined, made more key passes and is excellent in 1v1 situations.
His numbers are excellent but is this too much of a risk? I would have thought that had this opportunity to sign Pepe arrived when Wenger was in charge then it would be another to add to the star-studded “nearly signed” list. I feel we have missed out on top talents from Ligue 1 including N’Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez, Eden Hazard just to name a few, all whom Arsenal were reportedly close to signing but opted out. Now it is hard to tell whether Pepe is going to have an impact either Henry-style or Gervinho-esque but it has brought an incredible amount of excitement to the fanbase particularly as at the beginning of the window it was rumoured the Gunners were after Ryan Fraser so this is certainly an upgrade.
I think Pepe is an incredible signing. He is a player who I have watched and is the ideal player to take this team to the next level. A quick, skillful forward who is tenacious and has incredible technical quality, something which Unai Emery and co highlighted as a real weakness in the team. His movement, ability to take the ball past players will scare and hurt opposition players, something that hasn’t really happened since Alexis Sanchez left, with all due respect to Aubameyang (who I believe will thrive even further with a player of Pepe’s ilk alongside him) it wasn’t necessarily what we required in January of 2018 and we lost a quality in Sanchez which has finally been replaced.
Tactically I think it will be interesting to see how he is utilised. Whether he plays a 4-3-3 and uses Pepe with Laca and Auba or will he prefer a conventional 4-2-3-1 where Pepe can float inside and potentially see Ozil drift wide right to create space. Personally I would like to see Pepe used in a 4-2-3-1 with him and Ozil interchanging and if we can introduce Reiss Nelson to play wide left this season, this is another excellent option. I also wonder if Emery would think about using Lacazette in the number 10? There is so many different options now and it’s exciting to see.
The fact we have been able to persuade Pepe to move to N5 despite interest from some of Europe’s top names shows that Arsenal are still a top name in the footballing world and this is an incredible signing.
As Raul said: “When Arsenal knock, it’s a different knock to other clubs.”
Occasional writer who follows the Arsenal home and away. Dennis is our greatest ever.