The Gunners signed the Ivorian for a club-record £72 million in the summer of 2019 (BBC). He was viewed as the man who would come in and make us one of the most dangerous clubs in the Premier League, but that just didn’t happen.
It’s clear now that Pepe has no future at Arsenal, but where did it all go wrong for our most expensive signing ever?
Five reasons why Nicolas Pepe failed at Arsenal
Pressure of the price tag
Pepe became a superstar in France thanks to his performances in his final season at Lille. He scored 23 goals and provided 12 assists in all competitions – only Kylian Mbappe managed more in that campaign.
That made the world stand up and take notice. Lille then had the chance to demand a mammoth fee to let him go, and Arsenal agreed to meet their demands.
As soon as the deal was confirmed, everyone’s eyes were on Pepe. The expectations were massive and the pressure to deliver because of the money Arsenal had spent on him were bigger than anything he had ever gone through before.
That clearly played a part and Pepe struggled.
Mikel Arteta’s system
Although Unai Emery preferred Wilfried Zaha, Pepe suited the former Arsenal boss’ philosophy. His pace and dribbling skills are perfect in a counter-attacking system, which made him the ideal signing for the Gunners at the time.
However, just a few months into Pepe’s Arsenal career, Emery was sacked. Mikel Arteta was brought in, and the Arsenal boss’ system is very different to his predecessor’s.
Pepe tried hard but really struggled to fit into Arteta’s possession-based system. That’s one of the biggest reasons why he didn’t fulfil his potential in Arsenal’s colours.
Pepe cannot be termed as an awful signing for Arsenal, he definitely had his moments.
The Ivorian showed his brilliance on numerous occasions, but they all came in flashes. He has the ability to be unplayable at times, but moments like those were few and far between.
Pepe’s inconsistency is one of the biggest reasons why he failed at Arsenal. One can only imagine how good he would’ve been for us if he was able to show his class week in, week out.
Bukayo Saka’s rise to fame
Pepe’s inconsistency opened the door for someone else to take his place in the side, and Bukayo Saka stepped up.
The young Englishman was mostly used on the left side – either at left-back or on the wing – but once Arteta decided to give him a run on the opposite side, he became one of the best young players in the country.
Saka has been unbelievable for us over the last two years – so much so that he became undroppable. He is one of the first names on the team sheet and that, unfortunately, cost Pepe his chances of regular game time.
Lack of opportunities
Every single one of the above factors resulted in Pepe not getting enough opportunities at Arsenal.
The pressure of his price tag and the change in Arsenal’s system resulted in him being really inconsistent. That, combined with Saka’s emergence, put Pepe on the bench more often than not.
The Ivorian started just five games in the Premier League last season, while he was handed just 16 starts in the previous campaign.
Pepe will definitely argue that he would’ve fared better if he was given more opportunities, but all of the above reasons justified Arteta’s decision to use him less often.