Why Arsenal’s club-record deal for Nicolas Pepe might backfire
Arsenal have made a promising start to the Premier League this season and, despite not hitting top gear just yet, Unai Emery definitely has a few positives to take from his team’s performances thus far.
The Gunners completed a remarkable comeback at home against Spurs in the North London Derby to earn a crucial point heading into the international break.
While the fans would have liked their team to get one over their bitter rivals, the kind of character that Arsenal showed on the pitch is likely to have gone down well with the club faithful.
Having already registered victories over Newcastle and Burnley, Unai Emery’s side currently find themselves 5th in the standings and the manager is likely to be happy with the progress that the team has made just four games into the season.
Arsenal’s painful rebuild in the post-Arsene Wenger era continued this summer, with long-standing mainstays like Nacho Monreal, Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny departing the club for greener pastures, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan also joined Roma on loan before the deadline following his unimpressive run of form under Unai Emery last season.
As a part of the transition, the Gunners splashed the cash on the likes of Nicolas Pepe, William Saliba, David Luiz, Dani Ceballos and Kieran Tierney to plug the holes.
Barring Tierney and Saliba, the other two names on that list have already played a part for the club in the Premier League, although neither has been particularly impressive.
While Luiz has quickly reminded the fans at his new club that he can prove to be a defensive liability at times, Pepe has not yet lived up to the hype surrounding his arrival in English football.
And it is the latter’s struggles to hit the ground running in the Premier League that is likely to put Unai Emery under a lot of pressure, simply because Arsenal had to break the bank to sign the 24-year-old in the summer.
Amidst speculations that the Gunners were cash-strapped this summer after missing out on Champions League football for the third successive season, the club surprised one and all with a record-breaking £72 million deal for Pepe.
Given Arsenal’s financial condition a few months back, that kind of a marquee signing never seemed to be on the cards but the Gunners looked to have bagged a real coup when they successfully beat off competition from a number of Europe’s elite to land the Ivorian’s signature.
To that end, however, Nicolas Pepe has struggled to justify the kind of money that the Gunners spent to bring him to the club earlier in the summer.
It is never easy for any player to arrive at a club like Arsenal with a huge price-tag on his head but the fans would have expected the 24-year-old to make a bigger impact in the opening few weeks.
Pepe, who accumulated 22 goals and 11 assists at Lille in Ligue 1 last season, was one of the few players in Europe’s top-five leagues to hit double digits in both the columns, but his performances at the Emirates thus far have quite contrasting.
It was understood that the Gunners had done their research extensively on the 24-year-old before spending such a massive amount in the summer, however, one cannot help but feel that they paid multiple times over the odds to secure a player who is one-footed and, more importantly, one-dimensional in his approach.
Yes, he has got a wonderful left foot and, while the Premier League fans are yet to see anything spectacular from him thus far, it is worth mentioning here that the Pepe doesn’t look like a player who has the ability to engineer something with his right foot.
And that is something that might prove to be a massive stumbling block in his pathway to success in English football.
Going by his performances till now, Pepe has been more or less predictable in the way he has gone about things in the final third- cutting inside or creating space from the wide areas with his left foot and firing aimless shots at goal.
Ironically enough, though, that style which earned him plenty of plaudits in France is yet to pay any dividends at Arsenal.
Now, whether that is due to the difference in the quality and intensity between the two leagues or it is just the period of acclimatisation for Pepe, is something that is not quite clear just yet, given that it is still too early in the season to arrive at a conclusion.
Well, he did trouble someone like Virgil van Dijk with his pace in the game against Liverpool but the Ivorian left a lot to be desired with his finishing.
Talking about his first taste of the derby atmosphere, Pepe once again looked lively on the day but some of his decision-making and shooting were quite shocking and it is was once again a story of what-could-have-been for him.
Indeed, Pepe has looked desperate for that first goal, which so often does a world of good to the confidence of any player at a new club.
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Arsenal will be hoping that they manage to extract the best out of him in the days to come but, going by the early signs so far, there are chances that the club-record deal for the winger might backfire and come back to haunt the Gunners.