In the summer of 2019, many believed that Arsenal had pulled off the coup of the summer when they beat a host of clubs to the signing of Lille winger Nicolas Pepe.
Smashing their club record, Arsenal agreed a £72million fee for the Ivorian winger who was Lille’s top goalscorer in the previous campaign with 23 goals in 42 games across all competitions.
He was quick, strong, direct, comfortable running at opponents and seemed a lethal finisher when one on one making runs from outside to in. It was exactly what Arsenal thought they needed.
Then he put on the famous Gunners shirt and he hasn’t done much since. A whirlwind of a season in 2019/20 saw Arsenal have three different managers throughout the campaign with Unai Emery sacked, Freddie Ljungberg as caretaker until Mikel Arteta took over.
Across all competitions last season for Arsenal, Pepe scored just 8 goals in 42 appearances but fans were optimistic about his future. They believed that with Arteta in charge and a consistent run in the team under the same manager, with the squad starting to look more structure and organised on the pitch, that they would get the best out of him.
It hasn’t happened.
Arteta opted to sign Brazilian winger Willian on a free transfer and he started the campaign ahead of Pepe in the pecking order for his favoured right-wing position. Even when Willian picked up an injury, Arteta opted to use Bukayo Saka in a wide position with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with Alexandre Lacazette leading the line up front.
Pepe has made just five starts in all competitions this season, with just one of those coming in the Premier League. He scored his second goal of the season in Thursday’s victory over Dundalk, with a fine right-footed strike finding the top corner but it was just papering over the cracks of what was another dismal performance.
The 25 year old struggled to beat defenders one on one, was sloppy in possession, made poor decisions on the ball and ultimately didn’t look good enough to be Arsenal’s first-choice right winger. His goal showed he has some quality, but Dundalk are hardly the bar to be judged against.
At £72million, Pepe needs to be judged accordingly. As it stands, he is a huge flop. Everything that Arsenal thought he would bring to the table he has struggled with and he has just proven more and more frustrating as the games go by.
Many Arsenal fans are beginning to lose patience with him, while some continue to stand by him. Overall, the likelihood that Pepe ever lives up to the expectation of his £72million price tag are incredibly slim.
Arsenal fans must make the decision now on whether to continue hoping he comes good and blindly backing him with excuses, or accept that he’s not as good as they thought and as such readjust those expectations they have for him.
Despite splashing the cash and smashing their club record for a signing, Arsenal are still in a position where they need a top level winger to add some much needed quality to their squad.