the three letters tar inside a cannon
article banner
JamesKennedy avatar


Why Nicolas Pepe will thrive at Arsenal

In one of the summer's more surprising stories, a cash-strapped Arsenal have secured the services of one Europe's most sought after and expensive prospects; Nicolas Pepe.The Ivorian’s arrival has been met with hysteria from the Arsenal faithful, unsurprisingly given the calibre and quality of player in question.However, Pepe, only 24 years old, is not yet a finished product, and thus there remain question marks over how well he will adapt to both the Premier League and European football. So, how will he fare in the famous red and white of north-London?First and foremost, Nicolas Pepe’s form during his time in France was exceptional. A haul of 22 league goals was only bettered by Kylian Mbappe, 11 assists was the second most of any player, and he ranked in the top 5 for sprints and dribbles per game. Furthermore, as the Premier League moves into the age of VAR, Pepe, who was fouled more than any other player last campaign, could prove a handful for defenders and officials alike.Whether he can reproduce such statistics in the notoriously more challenging and physical Premier League is yet to be seen, but a few promising omens hint that the wide-man should take to English football like a duck to water.Firstly, Pepe possesses the physique not to be overawed by the combative nature of English football. Standing tall at 6ft 1in (183cm), Pepe was the most fouled player in French football last season, and also won an impressive 1.2 headers per game. Further steel being added to the Arsenal ranks will most definitely not go amiss.
What's more, the trajectory of Pepe’s career to date will make for kind reading for the Arsenal faithful. The Ivorian was merely an Angers squad player just 2 years ago, however, has managed to transform his fortunes through a combination of an admirable worth ethic and a willingness to learn.
Under the stewardship of Unai Emery, a coach renowned for his interpersonal, one-on-one style of coaching and developing young players, we could perhaps see Pepe take that next step into the realms of world-class.As to where Pepe will feature in Emery’s tactical makeup, one imagines he will slot into the right side of our frontline, a position that has been void of an out and out winger for the last couple of seasons.
The likes of Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan offered an apt solution last campaign but ultimately lacked the directness to strike fear into the hearts of those who they came up against. Infact, Arsenal were so ineffective from wide areas on occasions last season, that Emery often reverted to a 3-5-2 featuring a midfield diamond instead.However, Pepe is far more than just a winger that will isolate themselves on the touchline. Whilst in France, he was afforded the freedom to drift into a more central role where he could affect the game in a more meaningful manner.This had a dual impact for his Lille side. Firstly it freed up the right-hand side of the pitch, allowing the onrushing full-back to join the attack and create potential overloads, a device that could see Bellerin once more return to his potent and brilliant best.Furthermore, a less isolated and now centralised Pepe could position himself on the shoulder of the striker, from which he would springboard darting runs in behind the opposition backline. With Lacazette’s tendency to operate as more of a false-nine, in turn dragging opposing centre-backs higher up the pitch, one would imagine that wide forwards Pepe and Aubameyang would thrive in the space generated in behind.However, that's not to say that Pepe cannot be utilised as a true winger. His leggy physique, trademark stepovers and blistering pace make him as dangerous as any wide man in Europe. Yet it is his tactical awareness, eye for a pass and anticipation that make him an equally dangerous inside forward.
His versatility will undoubtedly be invaluable for the ever-innovative Unai Emery, as he continues his quiet revolution at Arsenal.