How Mikel Arteta can bring the best out of Nicolas Pepe at Arsenal
By Max Champness
Mikel Arteta has all the attributes and capabilities to turn Nicolas Pepe into one of the Premier League’s best wingers. Before we move forward, let me first set the scene. It’s the summer of 2019. Despite interest from several European giants, Arsenal rose from the bottom and pulled off potentially the biggest shock deal of the summer. Nicolas Pepe was finally announced as an Arsenal player on 1st August after weeks of speculation the deal was closed and we had got our man, much to the delight of the Arsenal fanbase.
Coming from a foreign league to the Premier League, arguably the most physical and challenging league in the world, is never easy- especially when the heavy price tag of £72 million looms over your head. Throw in several managerial changes, a generally under-performing team and a shambolic midfield beside him and you can start to imagine how hard this season will have been for our record signing. In addition to this, his inconsistency of minutes and lack of a run of games have denied Pepe the opportunity to pick up momentum- further adding to his stunted start.
However, despite, the challenging circumstances, Nicolas Pepe’s goal returns and contribution to the team have been far from awful. In 32 appearances this season, he has contributed to a modest 14 goals- scoring 6 and assisting 8 times. Yes, this is not quite his haul of 35 goal involvements for Lille last season but, given the predicament the club has found itself in, you cannot say these stats are atrocious. When taking all factors into consideration, it has to be said that Nicolas Pepe has been far from our worst player.
At the age of just 24, Pepe’s best years still remain ahead of him. He has the natural talent and key attributes, such as his electric pace, and the ability to stay fit to allow him to reach his high potential at Arsenal. If he can develop certain aspects of his game, namely his decision making and confidence on his right foot, Nicolas Pepe will easily be able to elevate his game to the next level. This, as you may expect, is where Mikel Arteta can come in.
It’s clear to see Arteta likes Nicolas Pepe and genuinely believes he can help shape him into the player we know he can be. Back in February, Arteta spoke to Arsenal Media: “Afterwards he needs to have a much clearer picture of the things that are happening on the pitch, why they are happening and how he can solve them. I think he’s in the process of doing that.” It’s evident from these words that the boss sees the raw talent Pepe possesses and even in a short interview is able to articulate how he wishes to develop him.
Arteta went on to say “He hasn’t played 12 or 15 games in a row, which is a massive thing for a player in those positions which are more difficult on the pitch to make an impact in games, he needs to earn that with his performances’’. From this, we can decipher that our manager doesn’t expect the Ivorian to immediately turn into a world class winger, but instead accepts that time and faith in the player to start him consecutively will lead to drastic improvements.
In many ways, Mikel Arteta is the ideal, young coach to elevate Pepe’s game to the heights his talent could allow him to reach. It’s widely accepted in the Manchester City camp as well as across English media that Arteta spent vast periods of one-on-one player development with Raheem Sterling and was greeted with much success. He actively developed Sterling’s raw and unrefined talent into a more clinical and decisive player- and one of the best wingers in England and the world. This process, by single-handedly refining Pepe’s talent, is exactly what must be done.
If Mikel Arteta commits the time and effort into his player management of Nicolas Pepe, we could seriously see him as one of the best wingers in world football not too long from now. With football hopefully returning soon and a possible summer training camp to follow, Arteta should have the time and resources available to facilitate the flourishing of Nicolas Pepe.