Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta surprised many people when he deployed Nicolas Pepe on the left flank in our Europa League game against Rapid Vienna over two months ago.
The Ivorian joined Arsenal as an accomplished right-winger who had set the French top-flight on fire. His weaker right foot isn’t that great and his biggest strength as an attacker is cutting in and firing the ball at goal.
Playing on the left takes most of his strengths away, and it was evident in our game against Rapid Vienna. That was the only Europa League fixture this season that Pepe failed to score or assist in, and fans were adamant that he should not be used there.
However, Arteta had a vision. He brought Pepe back onto the left-wing against Southampton last month and he scored. He started there against Wolves too and found the back of the net there as well.
Peter Crouch believes that Arteta deploying Arsenal’s record signing on the left-flank has brought out the best in him. He feels that Pepe has really ‘stepped it up’, and that is why he is keeping Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out of the side.
When asked if Pepe’s mammoth transfer fee played a part in his early struggles, Crouch told BT Sport: “I think that is a huge part. If he’s not good enough, it is ‘he cost £72million’.
“There is a player in there. In his last season (at Lille), only Kylian Mbappe scored more goals than him. He had 33 goal involvements, he was on fire. There is a player in there, he looks better coming from the left to the right.
“When he has played down the left he has stepped it up. He is keeping Aubameyang out of the side and that will give him confidence. His goal against Wolves was about perseverance, something he has been criticised for. Him and Saka can be a real threat.”
Should Pepe stay on the left?
That really is an interesting question. Pepe would ideally prefer to start on his preferred right-wing spot, but his best performances in an Arsenal have shirt have come on the opposite side over the last few weeks.
With Bukayo Saka playing as well as he is, the Ivorian might have no choice. He needs to keep performing on the left as well as he has been since that game against Southampton, especially with competition for places increasing.
Aubameyang will be looking to get back into the side ASAP, while Gabriel Martinelli will be raring to go as well considering that he hasn’t played a single minute of football since he was taken off at half-time against Manchester United.
Pepe’s brilliant recent form is a good headache for Arteta. The Arsenal boss will be hoping that the former Lille man continues his form until the end of the season. If he does, we should finish in a respectable position.