The excitement among Arsenal fans was sky high when Nicolas Pepe joined us in the summer of 2019. The Ivorian set Ligue 1 on fire in his final season with Lille where he scored 23 goals and provided 12 assists in all competitions.
Those figures convinced Arsenal to fork out an eye-watering £72 million (BBC) to sign him. That mammoth figure put massive pressure on Pepe’s shoulders and it is safe to say, he hasn’t lived up to that humongous price-tag.
The Ivorian has scored 15 goals and has provided 13 assists in 69 games for Arsenal in all competitions so far. He has shown flashes of brilliance but his consistency has been a massive issue ever since he moved to the Emirates.
Mikel Arteta had to change something to get the best out of him. He moved Pepe onto the left flank and most people felt it was a silly idea. It didn’t work in the Europa League game against Rapid Wien earlier in the season, and the chances of the same working in the Premier League looked slim.
However, two goals in his last four starts changed everyone’s opinion. He has looked an incredible threat down the left flank and although his strength of cutting in and having a strike at goal with his stronger foot has been diminished, his overall game has improved considerably.
So why did Arteta decide to change Pepe’s position? Did he show something incredible in training on the left-wing, or is just a lucky switch that suddenly turned him into a much better player?
We think Pep Guardiola is to thank for this one.
A leaf from Pep’s successful book
Arteta spent three-and-a-half years at Manchester City as one of Guardiola’s assistants.
He’d be the first one to admit that he has learnt a lot from the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss, and one of his brilliant moves at the Etihad might have tempted Arteta to push Pepe onto the left flank.
Manchester City signed Leroy Sane from Schalke for £37 million in 2016. (BBC) The German was only 20 then but he had already made a name for himself as one of the best young players in world football.
Sane played 57 times for Schalke in all competitions before his move. In all but 12 of those games, he either started centrally or on the right-wing which is where most people thought he’d thrive in the years to come.
Guardiola, however, pushed him to the left at City. He played a 135 times for them in all competitions and he featured on the left in over 85 per cent of his total games for the club before he left for Bayern Munich.
On the left, Sane became one of the best players in the Premier League. He scored 39 goals and provided 45 assists in during his time at the Etihad, and every time he was on the ball, he terrified the opposition right-backs.
Arteta wants Pepe to be his Sane at Arsenal
Let’s be honest, Pepe’s is nowhere near as good as what Sane was a few years ago. The German carried City on his own at times, while the Arsenal man has been extremely inconsistent – albeit in a much inferior side.
Pepe is arguably just as quick and just as skillful as the German. He has all the qualities to become just as good as Sane on the left-wing if he puts his head down, works hard and listens to everything Arteta tells him.
It clearly is a long road ahead for Pepe to be that good but it is certainly achievable. A bit of work on his movement and his weaker foot will make him a very difficult attacker to stop, and even if he doesn’t turn out to be as good as Sane was at City, he can be the best version of himself which is still better than most players in the Premier League.