Play time is priceless for Nicolas Pepe as he continues arduous trek to Premier League adaptation
Updated: Feb 7
By Daniel Finton
Since Nicolas Pepe's arrival at Arsenal, many questions have been asked about whether his £72 million price tag was justified. His transition from football in Ligue 1 to the Premier League has not been a seamless one by any stretch of the imagination. On many occasions it appears as if the Ivorian struggles with the physicality and speed of the demanding division.
Despite the fact that the winger has managed to score a few Premier league goals and register some assists as well (3 goals and 2 assists), it is obvious that he has still not yet reached the heights that he was at in his final season with Lille. In his final season with the French club, he managed an outstanding 22 goals and 11 assists. This fruitful campaign put him on the radar of abundance of elite, European clubs, including, but not limited to Arsenal, Napoli and PSG. The coveted man opted for a move to London and has not yet reached the level he’d gotten to with his former side.
Despite questions being asked, it is safe to say that it is obvious that there is something there with Pepe, considering we've already seen it in flashes. Those who are labeling him as ‘the next Gervinho’ must not have watched him when he was Lille’s star man in the 2018-2019 season. The ice cold composure and ruthless mentality he has, along with his skill set are not at all similar to that of Gervinho’s. The only similarity the pair share are nationalities (and pace, I guess).
His undeniable ability to beat a defender in one on one situations, along with his exceptionally artistic set piece delivery and eye for a goal indicate that he can be a major asset for us if we give him the time to adapt. Arsenal fans are a notoriously impatient bunch, so will the Gunners faithful give him the time to adapt that he so clearly needs? One would hope so. Pepe has shown positive signs of progression under the jurisdiction of Mikel Arteta and the supporters must back the 24-year-old while he continues through the arduous trek of adapting to football in England.
The only way that Pepe can adapt to the Premier league is by getting more and more minutes under his belt. Playing the Ivorian from the start against stereotypically, rugged and oafish teams like that of Burnley will help him to understand what the English game is all about. Players that like to carry the ball and take defenders on are always going to get clattered like they’ve never been before upon arriving to the gloomy, English shores. It is Pepe’s job to embrace that and learn how to use the over-aggressive defenders “hit to hurt” way of defending against them.
One player in particular that he may find to be helpful in doing so is that of his international team mate, Wilfried Zaha. Despite Pepe’s obvious superiority in his technical ability, our number 19 would benefit massively in basing his way of dribbling past people off of Zaha's controversial way. Though the two's playing styles contrast greatly, it would certainly still benefit Pepe to take note of his methods. The Crystal Palace man never shies away from going to ground when receiving even minimal contact. This, in effect, makes defenders wary to make a rash challenge and although I am by no means advocating in favour of diving, going down when you feel contact is realistically the only way for a ball carrying player in the Premier league to survive through a match without having their ankles obliterated to smithereens. If Pepe could maintain his already top-class set piece taking ability and combine it with Zaha’s expert algorithm for Premier league dribbling, he’d be our best player hands down. If he did so, just like Zaha, whenever he is unable to stamp his authority into the game with a goal or assist, he could do so by getting under defenders skin, being a pantomime villain of sorts.
All in all, the journey to stardom in the Premier league will not be an easy task for our record signing, although it is something he is certainly capable of. The few promising glimpses we’ve seen of Pepe upon his arrival have been excitingly salivating . For example, him beating the best central defender in the world, Virgil Van Dijk on the dribble, when no player had done so for 50 games, showed the impressive capabilities he has hidden away in his locker. If the Ivorian's quest to be the best comes to fruition, I have no doubt that he will be the player that Arteta builds the entire team around. The potential Pepe has is incredible and if Arsenal can harness it, we will have one of the most dangerous men in the league at our disposal.
I believe it was Eminem who so famously asked “the real slim shady” to please stand up. I will now follow suit and ask Pepe to do the same, “Will the Lille Pepe, please stand up?”