Nicolas Pépé has been my dream signing since the first half of last season. It seemed quite inconceivable at the start of the summer transfer window that we would actually end up landing him, but through super agents and other negotiators, we managed to pip Napoli and sign the Ivorian international for a whooping £72 million, going on to become the club's record signing. This sent us fans into delirium, giving us hope and something to look forward to.
When this type of signing is made, there is an air of expectation. There is huge pressure on the player to deliver right from the start. As per The Athetic, Unai Emery was keen on bringing Wilfried Zaha to the Emirates as opposed to Pépé. While there is no doubt Zaha gives us an immediate impact as he knows the league very well, it is also important to look at other factors such as age, ceiling of the player and potential resale value. We are building a project for the future. The truth is that Pépé has a much higher ceiling. He is just 24 years of age and was a major reason for helping a Lille side that just about survived relegation in 2018, finish 2nd in Ligue 1 and gain Champions league qualification last season.
So how has Nicolas Pepe's output been at Arsenal so far? It is honestly not as bad as some make it out to be. In all competitions, the player has scored 4 goals and provided 5 assists, averaging a goal or assist every 130 mins. That means a goal contribution in almost every other game. Hard to believe right? Truth is he hasn't been exceptional, but he hasn't been bad either. His performances have been inconsistent, but some of the things he does on the football pitch makes me go, 'Wow.'
There are conspiracy theories going around as to why he is not playing regularly. Freddie Ljungberg and Mikel Arteta have hinted that his training levels are not up to standard. Some say it is because he doesn't work hard enough on the pitch. Personally, I think he is carrying an injury of some sort and we're just nursing him by restricting him to sub appearances for now.
We need to be more considerate when we speak about Pépé because he is coming in from a different league, with a different language and culture. He also tends to draw a lot of fouls and has been a victim of some potential leg breakers. Different coaches deal with new signings trying to adapt differently. Arsene Wenger, for example always played certain players, even when they were on bad patches of form in the hope that they eventually find their swagger back. Arteta and Freddie just have different approaches to Arsene.
If you are going to play Aubameyang, Lacazette, Ozil and Pepe together, it becomes a potential issue. We need more off the ball effort from up front. Kevin De Bruyne, speaking post our 3-0 battering to City last month claimed that they had analysed our front 4 of Pepe-Ozil-Martinelli and Aubameyang, coming to a conclusion that only Martinelli tracks back. This made it easier for them to run over our isolated midfield pivot. We need to find the right balance as a unit.
We also need to consider that Pépé has come to a side that is absolutely struggling on all fronts. If he had joined, say an established side like Liverpool - He would have been eased in, similar to what they did with Naby Keita and Fabinho. At Arsenal, there is huge pressure on him to deliver RIGHT NOW. When Sadio Mane was Pépé's age, he was a 10 goal a season forward for Southampton after already having a year of adaptation in the league. When Mohammed Salah was 24, he was loaned to Fiorentina and then underwent a loan spell at Roma, before being permanently signed by them. Prior to this, he failed to make any sort of impact for Chelsea. Even Riyadh Mahrez needed a season to adapt in the league, before unleashing his potential in his second season and powering Leicester City to a title. For someone coming to the Premier league, at 24 - They need time and patience. It is not Pépé's fault he cost so much.
This season won't see Pépé hitting the numbers he did at Lille, but next season, I expect him to go up another level and show more consistency. He gets a pre-season which is crucial to prepare for what the league entails. He did not have that this time and comes in fatigued, straight from the African Cup of Nations. Let us all be patient with Pépé, he has real quality. I trust Arteta to turn him into the player we all know he is capable of becoming. All he needs is time and more importantly, our continued support.