Nicolas Pepe has been through it all this season. To be used left, right and not to mention the infamous red card against Leeds which prompted manager Mikel Arteta to say his winger was ‘letting the team down’.
If Pepe let his teammates down in November, he’s certainly won them now. The Ivorian’s numbers have never been enough to justify his massive price tag, but was it ever fair to put that kind of pressure on a player entering his second season at the club?
There is never a perfect time to assess a player’s contributions, but after settling into club life, Pepe now seems to have found his feet. He can have an impact on the bench, but he also has the ability to produce some magical moments in the final third from the start of games.
“I don’t know how badly he wants it, but he needs some advice,” Arteta said in February.
“And he needs clarity in what he needs to do, and then he needs discipline on the pitch to do what he needs to do.
“Obviously he needs the freedom at times to express himself as a player. You can’t restrict that for sure.
football.london understands that Pepe has a very good relationship with Arteta, who regularly chats with him in French during matches and training.
In 1792 minutes played this season in the Premier League and Europa League, Pepe has scored eight goals and three assists.
He scored in three consecutive away league games last month and averaged 162 minutes per goal, a statistic which isn’t too bad considering he doesn’t start every game.
Theo Walcott became an impact player under the guidance of former manager Arsene Wenger, who would bring him towards the end of games to wear down opposition and run overlapping races.
Pepe doesn’t want to be that player. He wants to start games and the best way to do that is to have an immediate impact when he has the minutes – like he did against West Ham on Sunday afternoon.
The 25-year-old managed to secure an assist after playing just 17 minutes at London Stadium and it is symptomatic of his season that his contributions go largely unnoticed when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette finish them off.
His assist for Lacazette who saw the Frenchman win a penalty in the North London derby was sublime, another moment of magic that showcased the shrewd vision the Ivorian only recently unleashed.
Arteta now faces several selection dilemmas. Martin Odegaard is one of the first names on the squad sheet since his loan transfer from Real Madrid, with the Gunners looking to extend his contract, be it a loan extension or permanently.
And that provides healthy competition for Pepe, who has been a consistent player in the Europa League in particular.
With 6.3 attempts per 90 minutes, of which 3.4 were successful, he also averages 3.4 chances created per game. There were rumors that Arteta could seek to recoup some of the £ 72million Arsenal paid for him almost two years ago – but at the moment it seems highly unlikely.
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At Pepe, they have a shy and reserved player off the pitch, with a lot of character and technical ability.
It is now up to the former Lille winger to continue to make an impact when he shows up – and to prove to his manager that he can make the starting XI without a second thought.