Arsenal’s marquee signing of the summer hasn’t been given very much time to showcase why he cost the club £72m. However, he’s already showing the ability that is encouraging Gunners fans a great deal.
Upon signing Nicolas Pepe, all Premier League onlookers foresaw an incredibly scary front-three at Arsenal: Alexandre Lacazette through the middle, with the blistering pace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Pepe running riot on the wings. The trio is ominous enough to scare even the league’s top defence.
Injuries and fitness concerns kept Arsenal fans waiting for the triumvirate to appear together. Anfield provided them with a brief glimpse of the future. Encouragingly, there were signs the club is building one of the most menacing attacks in world football.
Record Signing Told To Be Patient
Pepe’s £72m fee dwarfed the £55m spent on Aubameyang in January 2018. However, manager Unai Emery was happy to do so; signing a top-class winger was a key objective for the club. With 23 goals and 12 assists in 41 Ligue Un games last season, Arsenal certainly landed a promising attacker.
Despite spending the record sum for the winger, Emery was quick to preach his slow approach and patience for Pepe. Involvement in the African Cup of Nations delayed the winger’s preseason. Goal later reported Emery’s willingness to ease him into the team once he linked up with the squad.
Game Time For Pepe Showing Promise
Emery was true to his word, disappointing many fantasy football players by keeping Pepe on the bench at St. James’ Park. Aubameyang gave Arsenal a 1-0 lead with close to an hour played. It gave Emery the chance to bring Pepe into the fray and he did so with 19 minutes to go. Few opportunities presented themselves in his short time on the pitch to show off any of his skill. Lacazette sat out the game, still suffering from the ankle injury picked up during the preseason.
Speaking to the official Arsenal website, Emery reiterated Pepe wasn’t ready for 90 minutes. Twenty minutes, the Spaniard reasoned, was good for him at that time. Against Burnley in Arsenal’s opening home game, Pepe was once more on the bench. Alexandre Lacazette, however, returned to the starting line-up. The Frenchman scored a little under quarter-of-an-hour into the game.
Just after half-time, we finally got to see Lacazette, Aubameyang, and Pepe on the field all at once. While the trident was only present for 15 minutes, with Lacazette coming off 15 minutes after Pep came on, it was clear to see that these three could terrorise any defence.
Aubameyang scored 64 minutes in, before Lacazette made way for Sead Kolasinac, but all eyes were on Pepe. The crafty winger flashed his pace against Burnley and even popped a sweet nutmeg. With only 45 minutes on the pitch, Pepe still managed to pull off three key passes, had one shot, and completed four dribbles.
Emery teased a potential gung-ho threat in the third game against Liverpool, hinting that Nicolas Pepe would finally start a Premier League game. Away to Liverpool on 24 August, Arsenal fans finally got 90 minutes of Pepe.
Finally, A True Showing Of Pepe
Pepe finally got his long-awaited start in an Arsenal shirt; unfortunately, it was against Liverpool. Boasting the best defence of last season and a Champions League trophy, it was a tough baptism of fire for the new Gunner.
It took a little while for them to get going, but once Liverpool smelt blood in the water, they went for the kill. Despite the gulf in class on the day, as of 27 August, both Liverpool and Arsenal are favoured to get into the top-four with Betway at 3/100 and 1/1, respectively.
However, amidst the 3-1 loss, many onlookers like the Independent were quick to point out Arsenal’s shining light: Nicolas Pepe. As detailed by the Independent, Pepe caused many problems for the Liverpool backline with his pace and expert dribbling ability. The 24-year-old finished with four shots, one of which trickled past the post, a key pass, and seven defence-penetrating dribbles.
It’s well-known that Emery holds Klopp’s Liverpool as Arsenal’s template for success, and what may have been the kicker for the Gunners is that their venomous front-three wasn’t as well-drilled as Liverpool’s in the game. That’s no surprise; we only saw around 15 minutes of the Aubameyang-Lacazette-Pepe trident. It was too little too late.
Arsenal were put to the sword by Liverpool’s front three – particularly by Mohamed Salah for a ten-minute spell early in the second half. But with more time on the field, Arsenal’s front three can become as deadly as that of Liverpool. Despite only seeing one start, Pepe has shown his ability enough to encourage the Gunners that he can be the third and final piece to what could become a league-dominating attack as the season progresses.