Nicolas Pepe’s Hourglass is Almost Out of Sand
By Mac Johnson
How is it possible to play against Dundalk and come out looking lazy? Nico Pépé just didn’t have a good game, despite a seriously majestic finish with his weaker right foot. Playing wide on the left, his delivery was inconsistent, and his passing slow. Arsenal didn’t play a high-tempo game, and he still managed to dally on the ball. And it’s not the first time he’s played like this against a lower-tier opponent. We know what he’s capable of, yet the Ivorian constantly frustrates us as Arsenal fans, because he just doesn’t seem to deliver on a consistent basis. As of the time this article is written, he’s featured in all ten Arsenal games this season, with five starts and five substitute appearances to his name. In that time, he has already tallied two goals and an assist, which isn’t all that poor, but considering he’s had a year to adjust to the squad, is being spurred on by some serious competition, and has the backing of the manager, we need more from him. Much more.
Hard stop. I won’t bring up the fact that he’s the record signing, because frankly, I don’t care how much money he cost. He needs to start earning his place in the squad.
The 25-year-old is singularly left-footed, and as a result, very easy to defend against. Especially in the Premier League, where unpredictability is the name of the game in terms of unsettling the low-lying blocks often employed by underdog teams, he’s still missing that spark we saw when we signed him. His set piece delivery is exceedingly poor, both from corners and dead-ball situations.
And on the rare occasions where he doesn’t float around the pitch, a-la Mesut Ozil, he’s a serious live-wire. That, too, often plays to his detriment. He’s too excitable, and tries far too hard to do everything himself.
When he doesn’t play it safe, he’s far more creative, but also cedes possession often, which frustrates us, and frustrates him. He hates losing the ball, and so he plays it safe. He doesn’t have enough effect on games, and so he tries too hard. He needs to find balance.
But if Pepe doesn’t stop the sand trickling down his proverbial hourglass, soon there will be nothing left for him to work with. He has to find his groove, or risk warming his butt on the bench in the near future. It’s as simple as that.