Was Nicolas Pepe the right choice for Arsenal?
Background photo: Wonker, CC BY 2.0
The Premier League is back with a bang. Football fans are enjoying every moment. Like a few other clubs in the division, Arsenal will be hoping to force themselves up the table this term, after a forgettable campaign in 2018/19.
Unai Emery's men entered last season with strong morale, picking points off elite clubs with relative ease. But they couldn't maintain the momentum in the second half of the year - and consequently failed to secure a Champions League spot for the second successive time.
The Europa League final collapse to Chelsea was Arsenal's most painful moment. The Gunners blew a huge opportunity to end their campaign on a high thanks to the 4-1 defeat to The Blues in Baku. Nevertheless, it reminded Emery that there was still work to do.
So, the Spaniard approached the summer with a huge recruitment plan at the forefront of his mind. Amongst his priorities was to strengthen his attack with the addition of a world-class winger - who would combine efforts with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazzette to break down the opposition.
For the large parts of the transfer window, it appeared as though they would get a deal done for Crystal Palace's Wilfred Zaha. However, in a different turn of events, they ended up signing Nicolas Pepe from Lille instead.
The attacker became Arsenal's most expensive signing with his astronomical £72million price-tag. Pepes' move to the Emirates Stadium was a well-deserved one following his brilliant exploits with Lille in the French league in 2018/19.
Pepe was a huge revelation. He was a constant threat to the opposition, tearing them down with his pace, dribbling skills, intelligent movement, and goalscoring knack. He remained Lille's go-to-guy throughout the campaign, finishing with 23 goals and 12 assists from 41 appearances in all competitions.
Given his mammoth price-tag and the tremendous potential he displayed at Lille, it's normal that Arsenal fans expect a lot from their new ma. Pepe made his first appearance for the club on August 11th in a Premier League game Newcastle - and was met with ample excitement from the Gunners faithful.
However, having amassed 6 appearances with just one goal to his name, with that coming from the spot, the tone in North London just isn't the same anymore. The transformation Emery expects to come with the winger's insertion hasn't manifested. Arsenal's attack remains at the same level. Pepe has struggled to live up to the hype that surrounded his transfer so far. This has forced some to question whether he was the right choice for The Gunners in the first place.
Pepe hasn't been able to influence games the way the fans expect. His finishing has come under scrutiny in recent weeks. The attacker was guilty of spurring some decent goalscoring chances during Arsenal's recent Premier League games against Aston Villa and Watford, too. For someone with such a hefty price tag, it's right to expect more.
We're in a world where patience is running out. Big signings must deliver or they'd be shown the exit door. Take a look at Philippe Coutinho's experience at Barcelona as the case-in-point. The Ivory Coast International must improve, and start to justify his place on the football field. Otherwise, us fickle football fans will turn on him pretty quickly...
Nevertheless, it is still too early to raise an alarm at this stage of his Arsenal career. Pepe is, without doubt, a fantastic winger. He doesn't lack the talent to make an impression. With the drive and passion he has displayed in recent weeks, it's only a matter of time before he finally hits the ground running at the Emirates.
Adaptation struggles are expected but it shouldn't take long for a player of Pepe's talent. Arsenal fans can just relax and watch as the performances start to improve from the 24-year-old star.