So, finally, after many, many, many, many, many moons, Arsenal confirmed the signing of Nicholas Pepe. Even the catholic church – confirmations experts by any standards – questioned how long it took to do so. “Will you announce it, for Jesus’ sake,” a spokesman said. “You’re testing the patience of our saints!”
It’s surprising the 24-year-old can stand upright, such is the weight of supporter expectations on his shoulders. Pepe is new hope, a new Arsenal, a return to the Champions League; he’s Chapter IV rather than I or II.
Because football support developed into a black and white world, you can’t think remodelling the defence early in the transfer window might be a better use of €80m. No, that means you’re moaning about the club buying Pepe, that you don’t rate him as a player. I know this because I got the emails telling me exactly this.
Here’s a newsflash: I haven’t seen Pepe beyond three ACN matches this summer. His price tag demands he be a good player but most people are claiming he’s a good player on the back of his YouTube reel. Ligue Un doesn’t get the viewing figures to substantiate the number of experts on him.
As with Arsene, everything about Arsenal is for or against. The grey world we occupied with Arsene – admiring his achievements but wanting him replaced – morphed into something more polarised, more my way or the highway.
Which is wrong. Pepe is a good signing but doesn’t solve a fundamental problem with our defence. That needs more than one player, it needs two or three. Kieran Tierney will be one but you know that his is a deal which will go down to the wire. Centre-backs is the game in town and we need to work fast.
Raul’s mantra, reiterated by Vinai, is to outsmart the market. I’m not sure we’ve done that this summer but he’s outsmarted the media. Few are comprehending that this is a seismic shift in the way football must be reported. If a £45m summer budget can potentially bring in £150m-worth of player, the transfer war chest is dead and buried; ‘X’ marks the spot but no-one is looking to dig it up.
Pepe serves a better purpose than that. Teams used to sneering at us now find their only solace comes in former players who weren’t good enough to make the grade doing the sneering on their behalf. That’s generally a sign that a player is good, that it hurts to miss out on him. That’s also a sign that someone believed the media too much.
Pepe isn’t proven as a Premier League player, they argue. One of the most vacuous footballing cliches ever, it deliberately demeans a player’s ability only because he didn’t sign for your morally bankrupt club. I know all clubs are morally bankrupt, some are just more so than others.
What can we expect from Pepe? Who knows. Football supporters expectations grow disproportionately before a season starts. Before the realisation that the manager’s tactics don’t get the best out of a player. Before he’s kicked from pillar to post. No, wait, the Nevilles retired years ago.
This is a time of pure, unadulterated joy. Where dreams of what might be are all that we have. Reality will butt in soon enough. Sit back and enjoy the mellow Hamlet moment.
There’s a Central Defensive Theme To This…
The media twigged quickly that £45m means nothing. Vinai’s calculated dismissal of the figure was disingenuous but at the moment, who cares. We’re linked with Daniele Rugani of Juventus and this morning, Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano.
He is essentially a more defensively disciplined Calum Chambers and if we’re genuinely interested in him, it begs questions about the Englishman’s future. His saving grace may just be that; being English and thus trained here is key for us in this rebuilding phase. The Premier League labyrinthine rules on squad composition mean that unless we sell, we’re quickly running out of space for overseas players.
Unless, of course, we sell Koscielny, Mustafi and Elneny – or any combination of the three. If we sell Mustafi for the €30m being touted, that really is outsmarting the market so Raul is due a doff of the cap.
It puts pressure on bringing someone in. In an ideal world, one loan, one permanent signing is what we should be chasing. One to tide us over until Saliba returns from France next summer, a year in which Sokratis celebrates his 32nd birthday. Pace will become an issue, more so than it is now.
However, our defenders are too nice and the Greek international is a Grand Master in the Dark Arts. Passing on that experience is something we need to ensure happens. Who knows, it might mean we do some defensive training…
Nonetheless, young players such as Upamecano and Rugani are the types where we can outsmart the market. It’s a dreadful phrase and one only with any substance if you buy cheap, sell high. €30m for Mustafi defines selling high, surely?
Which leaves us with a snippet from last night’s Europa League second qualifying round. It must be delivered in the manner which made Sir Trevor McDoughnut a household name. So…
And finally. Arsenal’s hopes of facing Arsenal in the Europa League this season were delivered a fatal blow tonight. Ukranian side FC Arsenal Tula lost their tie 3 – 0 on the night and 4 – 0 on aggregate to FC Neftchi.
It was the ultimate p*sstake by the footballing gods. FC Neftchi are an Azerbijian club, based in the city of Baku, proving that it isn’t just The Arsenal who hate the damn place.