Last week, Arsenal confirmed the signing of Nicolas Pépé for £72m from LOSC Lille. The Ivorian winger is one of the hottest prospects in Europe, and his quick feet, eye for goal and creativity will add a lot to our squad. However, what impact, if any, does his arrival have on members of the existing squad? Throughout this article, I will examine the effect that I believe it will have on six of our first team stars.
- Alexandre Lacazette. In years gone by, we created a hatful of chances for our strikers, who went on to spurn them. However, since Alexandre Lacazette’s arrival in London, the opposite has been visible. Mesut Özil has struggled to match the high standards that he set for himself during the 2015/16 season, Alexis Sánchez has departed and Henrikh Mkhitaryan/Alex Iwobi have been inconsistent. Subsequently, many of our goals - particularly last season - have been down to individual quality from our two strikers. A prime example is Aubameyang’s first goal at The Mestalla against Valencia. However, I hope that Pépé’s arrival will provide some much needed creativity to our attacking play. He managed 12 assists last season for LOSC Lille, which is more than any Arsenal player. Hopefully this will result in more chances for Lacazette, who has already proven himself to be a reliable finisher. Having the variety of a natural winger will also force opposition teams to allocate their defenders more cautiously, rather than simply crowding out our front man with 2-3 players. Due to his technical brilliance, Nicolas will possibly occupy two players, which will provide Alexandre with more time and space to work his magic.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. During his time at the club, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been used both up front and out wide. I think most would agree with me when I say that he appears to be more effective when playing through the middle. Towards the back end of last season, we began to use a 3-4-1-2 formation with Mesut Özil playing behind Aubameyang and his strike partner, Alexandre Lacazette. However, Nicolas Pépé doesn’t really fit into the system. Throughout pre-season, we have reverted to a 4–2-3-1 setup, which would suit the Ivorian much more than the aforementioned three at the back formation. This would leave us with a choice. Do we play Lacazette or Aubameyang up front? If the answer to that is Lacazette, there is a follow up question: Do we play Aubameyang on the left? Although he isn’t a natural winger by any means, I still think he’s a better option than anyone else in the squad for that role. Pépé simply has to play. Lacazette isn’t suited to a position out wide. Aubameyang’s influence is hindered when he plays on the flank, but he is more than capable there. For me, I think we’ll see him utilised out wide, as each of the three players mentioned are far too good to leave out of the starting XI entirely.
- Mesut Özil. We all know just how good Mesut Özil can be, when at his best. However, there is no denying that he was sub-par during the 2018/19 campaign. However, I think that the arrival of Pépé will help the German return to his best. In recent years, we have sorely missed the presence of a natural winger. Our wide options have consisted of Welbeck, Aubameyang, Iwobi, Mkhitaryan and Mesut himself. For me, every one of those players are more effective when deployed centrally. As a result, the middle of the field has become cluttered and we have become over-reliant on our fullbacks/wingbacks for width. The arrival of our record signing will help add another dynamic to our already effective attack. It will force opposition sides to play a deeper line, to counteract the electric pace of the Ivorian winger. Subsequently, our number ten will be given more room to operate, allowing him to thrive. Also, the possible revert to the 4-2-3-1 formation will lessen his defensive workload, and allow him to focus almost exclusively on creating - as we saw during Arsène’s tenure. During Emery’s first season in charge, Mesut was shoehorned into the side in unnatural positions, with an onus on defensive workrate. Although this is obviously a key part of any footballer’s game, I personally believe that he plays his best football when his defensive responsibilities are at a minimum, and he has the freedom to roam. There is no guarantee that he will return to the level we saw during the 2015/16 season, but the changes in formation and personnel certainly maximize his chances.
- Héctor Bellerín. Although Héctor spent lengthy spells on the sideline last season, he was one of our main sources of width throughout last season, when he was fit. The lack of a natural winger in the squad added extra pressure to our fullbacks/wingbacks to stretch the opposition, as well as to provide an outlet for the team. The arrival of Nicolas Pépé should lessen Bellerín’s workload in that respect. There will be less pressure on him to hug the touchline to the same extent, which will hopefully make our defence more compact as a unit. As well as this, he will be able to link up with Pépé to great effects. Nicolas is left footed, with an inclination to cut inside when the opportunity presents itself. Due to his superb technical ability, he often drags numerous defenders along with him. As a result, Héctor will have many opportunities to overlap with little to no marking from opposition defenders. The Spaniard recorded five assists last season, despite missing almost half the season with injury. In my opinion, the arrival of Pépé will help this figure to rise even higher. Hopefully Héctor can continue where he left off vs Chelsea in January, and go on to have a successful season.
- Alex Iwobi. It is very difficult to predict what the future holds for Alex Iwobi. Although he was somewhat underwhelming last season, he received plenty of playing time - particularly away from home. He was also one of the only players who could leave Baku with any pride whatsoever, following the Europa League final. However, he has been playing at a similar level for the past three levels. When he first burst onto the scene, he was a breath of fresh air, and shocked fans with his maturity and ability on the field. Unfortunately, he hasn’t really kicked on in the three or so years since his debut at Goodison Park. Admittedly, he has shown glimpses of the player that we all know he can be, but they have been few and far between. Consistency has been a huge problem, and I struggle to see where he fits into the 4-2-3-1 system that we have been using in pre-season. Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang And Nicolas Pépé seem too good to leave out of the starting XI, so a place in our front three is unlikely. In terms of the number ten role, I can’t see him being a fixture. Mesut Özil has shown glimpses of brilliance in pre-season and seems to be revitalized ahead of the upcoming campaign. Also, Dani Ceballos and Joe Willock will be in contention for the number ten role, as will Henrikh Mkhitaryan. It would appear that Iwobi’s opportunities will be limited. I’d guess that they’ll be restricted to the Europa League, the domestic cups and games against sides in the bottom half of the Premier League table. From a personal perspective, it is absolutely crucial that Alex has a successful season. With the emergence of Reiss Nelson and Bukayo Saka, he has to up his game if he wants to be an important part of the squad. If not, I think this season may be his last in the red and white of Arsenal Football Club.
- Sead Kolašinac. As I’ve mentioned above, the arrival of Nicolas Pépé and our pre-season tour would lead you to believe that a 4-2-3-1 system will be utilised this season. This bodes well for many members of the squad, but Sead Kolašinac is not one of them. Although he can be useful in an offensive sense at times, his defensive quality is far from convincing. He struggles with tracking runners, is rash in the challenge and is positionally suspect. In many ways, he is one of the primary reasons that we played with three centre-backs last season. His lack of defensive capabilities forced us into playing with an extra man in the defensive third. Throughout the summer, we have been linked to Celtic’s Kieran Tierney as a potential replacement. It would appear that the negotiations have reached a stalemate in recent weeks, but many outlets still claim that a deal is likely to be reached. If we fail to recruit a player in that position, I think we’ll be exposed. Although Nacho Monreal has been a great servant to the club, he is past his best. Kolašinac in a five at the back system is adequate at times, but the thought of him playing a full season in a 4-2-3-1 doesn’t fill me with confidence, to put it mildly. There are still two or so days remaining in the transfer window, and David Ornstein has claimed that we are still after the Scotsman’s signature, so I guess that all will be revealed. Regardless of this, I think that the recruitment of Nicolas Pépé will have a negative impact on Sead’s Arsenal career. One of the only areas that he was consistently reliable in last season was providing an outlet. With Pépé’s arrival, there will be less of a need for this, and I hope that he will not enter the season as our first choice left-back.