It’s hard to imagine what would be going through your mind if your name was Nicolas Pepe. Since the Ivorian made a club-record move to Arsenal, he has failed to score a goal and looked lacking in end product on many occasions.
The 24-year-old became the Premier League’s third most expensive signing after his £72m move and thus much was expected from him – coming from the back of a stellar campaign at Lille.
Nicolas Pépé’s 2018-19 Ligue 1 season by numbers:
118 total shots
108 fouls won
102 take-ons completed
70 chances created
A move to the Premier League could be close. ? pic.twitter.com/BkXoTehDCz
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 27, 2019
As per Squawka above, Pepe bagged an impressive 22 goals and 11 assists while creating 70 chances that saw Lille finish second and qualify for Champions League football with only PSG being the better side last term.
The Pepe effect has not been the same as the 24-year-old has failed to dazzle since getting his full debut in an Arsenal shirt against Liverpool.
His latest performance against Watford was one which led club legend Charlie Nicolas “amazed” and said the Ivorian must start justifying the huge sum and competition Arsenal fought for his signature.
Writing for Sky Sports, Nicholas said:
“Nicolas Pepe was dreadful against Watford.
“How Emery took Mesut Ozil and Dani Ceballos off ahead of him was beyond me.”
While the club record signing might already have two assists to his name (as per Whoscored), his impact so far still seems like a let down especially his shocking miss when clean through against Liverpool with the match still in the balance. Had he scored, that could have changed the whole narrative of the game. But moving forward and a continuous chance is only what Pepe needs.
Although there has been some positives as Pepe has never been shy to take on opposition defence – something that could be vital later on in games where the opponents are camped out to defend and passes are hard to break through.
Earlier in the season, the 24-year-old became the first player to dribble past Van-Dijk. Why praise a winger for breezing past a defender if that should ideally be his job.
Well it’s praise-worthy because prior to the Liverpool-Arsenal clash, the Dutch international had not been dribbled past in his last 50 league appearances(for more than a season) and Pepe achieved that feat only three minutes into the game.
50 – Nicolas Pepe has become the first player to successfully dribble past Virgil van Dijk in the Dutch defender's last 50 appearances in the Premier League, since Mikel Merino in March 2018 for Newcastle. Beaten. pic.twitter.com/B1oRZMciOB
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 24, 2019
Furthermore, the Ivorian went on to complete seven dribbles the whole of the game. The most managed by any Premier League player in a single match till the current gameweek.
Nicolas Pepe: Completed more dribbles vs Liverpool (7) than any player has managed in a Premier League match this season
For more match stats – https://t.co/VPikf5u90p pic.twitter.com/OGxeCyZsvI
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) August 25, 2019
While the 24-year-old might be on a goal drought for a man of his standards, his take-ons tally have been impressive. With no player boasting more than him as at the current game-week five.
Most take-ons completed in the Premier League after gameweek five:
?? Nicolas Pepe (19)
??????? James Maddison (17)
?? Wilfried Zaha (17)
?? Manuel Lanzini (17)
?? Sofiane Boufal (15)
Nicolas Pepe leads the way. ? pic.twitter.com/jxvnRTD958
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 16, 2019
At his current rate of 3.8 dribbles per game via Whoscored, he would be at 144 dribbles come the end of the season(3.8 multiplied by 38 games). That would see him come up 42 better than the 102 he made last season at Lille, thus signifying there has been some improvement at least in one aspect.
But it now falls down to the all-important question. What must Pepe do to justify his price tag at Arsenal?
The Arsenal to the above question is simple. The one thing Nicolas Pepe needs right now is goals – and lots of them.
Although it’s quite interesting to note that the last winger to give Arsenal double figure goals was a certain Alexis Sanchez but given Pepe’s highly rated rap-sheet, almost the same output is expected of him and rightly so.
But also when you consider that Wilfried Zaha, who was Arsenal’s well chased target over the summer only has 34 Premier League goals in five seasons at Crystal Palace(via Whoscored) and Nicolas Pepe has managed 35 goals in just two seasons at Lille alone, it does make you wonder what the standard is for a good winger at the club. One can argue that the Ligue 1 is much easier than the Premier League but 35 goals in five seasons doesn’t seem great as well on an attacking end.
Which brings us back to the narrative that at the moment, “too much” is expected of him and he will need time to deliver after making a transition to a league with a different approach well renowned for it’s physicality.
Also Arsenal fans seem to have forgotten the same “Pepe drought” did happen to arguably two of the club’s greatest forwards. A little trip down memory lane(actually some decades), shall we?
In the summer of 1995, Arsenal signed one Dennis Bergkamp from Inter Milan and the Gooners had to wait seven games for the Dutch genius to open his account as per Arsenal.com and he did so with not one but two fine strikes against Southampton at Highbury. After being ridiculed by the national press for taking his time to settle into English football, Bergkamp went on to enjoy 11 fine years at Arsenal, scoring 120 goals in 423 appearances for the North London club, winning three league titles and three FA Cups, gaining legendary status along the way.
Another striker with legendary status at Arsenal and one who took slightly longer to claim his first goal for the Gunners is the club’s all-time record goalscorer, Thierry Henry. After signing from Juventus in 1999, Henry also took his time to adapt to the Premier League and took eight games (via the same source) to score his first Arsenal goal. The rest is history as the Frenchman went on to become Arsenal’s club-record goalscorer(till date) and also one of the Premier League’s best strikers of all time. Coincidentally, Henry was the club-record signing at the time. Déjà vu right?
So if history is anything to go by, there is time for Pepe to make amends and by a far margin as well. Also one can forgive Pepe when you consider that he was lacking fitness as at the time of his move to Arsenal. To then start your first full debut against the European Champions and then further play against rivals Tottenham in succession only further emphasizes the above context. So can we forgive Pepe and give him some more time?
Despite everything, the reality is that he should have bagged at least a goal and time is running out for him to show any form of return on the heavy price spent on him. Could it be the extra pressure from being the club-record signing telling on him? Maybe so. But the only way Nicolas Pepe can justify his Arsenal stint right now is goals and lots of them.
At least a goal will calm unnecessary nerves and talks from pundits like Nicolas who have been happy to blast the Ivorian. Arsenal take on Aston Villa on Sunday and Pepe will be hoping his scoring boots as well as his take-ons boots are on full display.