Analysis – Why buying Pepe has set Arsenal back for years

Despite Improvement, Pepe Has Set Arsenal Back Years by AI

When you make a 72 million euro acquisition in just one position, you are expecting a ready-made superstar or, if not, an incredibly young future star. Nicolas Pepe was meant to make the right wing his own. He was meant to be a game-changer. With him and another world-class forward in the frontline in Aubameyang, Arsenal would get two top attackers that would ensure a Top 4 finish every season. Pepe’s exploits at Lille rivaled those of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar. He was the best forward behind them and young, too. He seemed to have it all: dribbling, link-up play, shooting, setpieces, and even speed. Liverpool reportedly wanted him. Napoli clearly wanted him. Arsenal wanted him, too. And we got him. We got our man. For the princely sum of 72 million euros, a huge investment in one player.

Pepe clearly has talent and he’s shown some of it at Arsenal. He is good with ball-delivery (passing, crossing, shooting). He can protect the ball and worm his way out of pressure in deep defensive areas. At Sheffield United, he showed that he can still do something in tight spaces. And he can be decisive in the penalty box. But he has become a real shadow of all that talent.

Most of it boils down to his decision-making and his inability to get past a standing man without space in behind. Recently, also, even his link-up play withered out.

Pepe’s greatest downfall however is his inability to regularly and consistently beat a man. This is not the player we paid 72 million euros for. The lack of one-on-one threat is only more pronounced by the fact that we play Aubameyang on the other side. Basically, when Aubameyang and Pepe play against a packed defence, we don’t have an in-behind threat. This is only made worse when such ability is lacking in midfield and everywhere else in the team.

Pepe has set us back for years. We are not a club with boundless cash reserves. Shelling out so much money for a player who lacks basic one-on-one threat as a game-changer, especially when you consider that all of our other senior options lack the exact same thing. It could make us mid-table level for years. Fulham, Crystal Palace, Everton, Aston Villa, Tottenham, Wolves, Leiceister all have one-on-one threats on their teams. We once had the likes of Alexis Sanchez rampaging on the wings. Theo Walcott was a much better threat. Even Iwobi could comfortably beat his man and get in behind.

A good one-on-one threat must have outstanding physical or technical qualities along with other complementary tools. Mohammed Salah can skin his man from a standing position. And once you factor in his movement in tight spaces, intelligence and ball-delivery, you have a massive one-on-one threat. Sadio Mane has similar qualities (less acceleration, better strength). Zaha is not exactly the fastest winger alive but he has a ridiculous combination of strength and close-control. Marcus Rashford can beat his man from a standing position at least. Sterling does not have Salah’s intelligence but he has pretty much the same physical qualities. Riyad Mahrez’s technique and reactive body-manipulation in tight-spaces is outstanding. Pedro Neto has acceleration and a lot of strength. Daniel Podence is very technical. Son is similar to Rashford. Adama Traore has a lot of strength and speed. On and on it goes. Meanwhile, Aubameyang cannot beat his man from a standing position. Willian does not want to take the risk. Pepe seems to have lost his own ability.

Luckily, we still have Martinelli and Bukayo Saka. And Kieran Tierney to a lesser extent. Saka does not have a lot of tight-space technique but he uses his body well, has great strength in his legs, is very intelligent and has great ball delivery. He will only get better as time goes on. He will become more experienced and physically stronger in a way that will let him impose himself on defenders like Mane. Martinelli has the raw explosiveness that gives him an advantage against a standing man, as well as ball delivery, strength and other general qualities that makes him a potential star on the wings. The problem is that both of them are 19 and should not be so heavily relied on right now.

A Nicolas Pepe worth his money would have allowed both Martinelli and Bukayo Saka to rotate on the left side. Another good winger in the squad would have made it a perfect situation for both Saka and Martinelli to ease into the side. However, ever since Arteta moved him to the left, his football has improved significantly. The basics of wing play are coming easier to him but it is still not enough.

This is obvious in the Aston Villa match. Despite receiving a lot of the ball, revitalized Pepe struggled to make the most of it. In the final minutes, he found himself in a one-on-one situation with an Aston Villa’s defender with the ball in space. If he beat his man, Pepe would have been through on goal, but our 72 million pound man made a bad first-touch and the chance was gone. If it was Aubameyang or Martinelli that received the ball so many times in dangerous areas, they would have been more impactful.

Pepe’s cost will sharpen his judgment. He was brought in to be an absolute superstar, some sprinkling of magic and goal-dust. He has been just quite average. This transfer means Arsenal have overpaid on the odds and soon have to buy another good winger. A huge setback.

Agboola Israel

READ MORE: “William Saliba video under investigation by French FA

Tags Martinelli Pepe Saka


  1. Pepe’s right foot is too inept for a 72 M winger and this weakness also makes him predictable on the left wing. He’s very rarely able to use his right foot properly and he was just able to score once with it

    His parlor tricks conceal his shortcoming in close ball control skill and he’s highly inconsistent. However, his failures have forced Saka to take his place and now we have the greatest inverted RW Arsenal ever have in Saka

    Saka’s weaker foot is quite adept and this shows how skillful he is, as compared to Pepe and other one-legged attackers. The good things about Pepe are he’s one of the fastest attackers at Arsenal and he’s quite tall for a winger, so he might be suited for the attacking LB role

    1. One goal with his right foot? Only once with his right foot? By the way, you must think Lille and Arsenal play same style of football and that your coach has actually coached him.

      1. As far as I can remember, Pepe just scored once with his right foot for Arsenal. A 72 M attacker is supposed to be a team carrier like Alexis Sanchez few years ago, not someone who still needs to be coached after spending one and half season at Arsenal

        1. As far as I’m concerned Pepe has scored twice with his right foot this season.
          Come to think of it how many goals did Sanchez scored with his left foot. You guys are expecting Pepe to score more with his right foot like that is his main foot?

          What we need is for him to score on a regular

  2. Pepe has a ton of skill, what he needs is proper coaching so we can mould him into a good player. He has the ability, we see the flashes every now and then of what he can create and do.

    1. I’d also add that I strongly disagree about his 1v1 ability….he often beats his man but what he doesn’t do is drive hard to the line after beating the man, he slows down usually.

      This is where good coaching is needed.

    2. PJ-SA We paid 72 million he should know his bloody job he never takes a man on one on one just passes it sideways or backwards, And another thing when they play out from the back he is yards from the full back he should be close to stop that way out he should not need to be told

  3. Ok genius, buying one player out of like 10 since Pepe has been bought has set us back for years. Are you suggesting the amount paid for him is responsible for where we are on the table now ?So many like you want us to show we can mix with big club and spend on a player like big club does. Do you know how many 70m plus manu and Chelsea have and I have never heard such a claim as yours from their fan when they struggling. Besides, has the club comes to say we can’t spend on new players because we spent 72m on Pepe. From where I stand, it our club responsible for not getting good performance from our players because we hire coach who failed to do their job properly. Look at what Klopp does to Mane, Sallah and Firmino for example. These are average or a little above average players from their previous clubs. Klopp turns Mane who’s struggling to score 10 a season into 20+ goals a season attacker. We have Auba 30+ a season goal scorer, Laca 25+ a season goal scorer, even Pepe came here with 20 plus goals and all of sudden these guys don’t know how to score goals anymore. Why?

    1. Mobella how many times has Lacazette scored 25 goals for us, even under Wenger he didnt score 20 goals.

      1. Did you watch him in Lyon?. He scored that much for them and not in one season. Let us find out why these players regress and struggle with us compare to other clubs. Don’t tell me ligue 1 is a weaker league because we have had more players from there winning PFA of the season than players produce in epl.

  4. Pepe’s shows some great signs recently and although he seems to have moulded his game to switch to his left, he actually has a pretty strong right foot. This I think is one benefit of putting him on the left. His instinct is to cut inside – when he does, he has no choice but to use his right – but knowing that he can use his left if he doesn’t is making him less predictable.

    Aside from that, his decision making and workrate have both improved enormously.

    It’s too early to say whether we finally have the player we were expecting and you could argue that not getting a quick return on such a huge outlay is one contributing factor to Arsenal’s decline, but it’s not even close to the worst business we’ve done over the last 5 years.

    With the exception of Willian (and even that wasn’t nearly as expensive as other big mistakes), business in the last two windows has been pretty excellent, I’d say. Still a long way to go but the signs are positive from a recruitment perspective.

  5. I think your forgetting his £72m debt we forked out is in 5 separate payments out over a few years in installments, not a one off payment like Partey was. Didnt set us back that mich to be honest, we did the same with Lucas Torreira when we payed 27m or so for him!

    We payed over the top for Pepe but payments are in installments so deoesnt set us back that much considering what the club makes. The Pamdemic has screwed all that up for the club making money to pay these installment as everything’s all over the place atm.

  6. Oh! Great Pepe, why? Why hast thou set us back for years? Thou art the reason for gross mismanagement, thou art the reason David Dien was chased out, thou art the reason why high value players run down contracts, thou art the reason for bad transfers, thou art the reason for getting an inexperienced coach, thou art the reason why players keep getting injured, thou art the reason Kroenke places money above winning trophies, thou art the reason Don Raul was lining his pockets. Oh Great Pepe, thou art the reason we shall finally leave the beautiful Emirates to go back to Highbury. Thou art the reason for all misfortunes befalling The Arsenal.

  7. I’m afraid Pepe is one of many examples of Management incompetence displayed by our recruitment team during the past 5/6 years.Thankfully the individuals responsible for investing in him are no longer at our Club, but unfortunately the damage has been done and Areta is left to pick up the pieces and try to get some kind of return from the Ivorian.While Pepe has a natural ability to run quickly with the ball at his feet, in the EPL he rarely gets the opportunity to do so due to the sound organization of opponents defensive set up.Compare him with a player the writer failed to recognise in Raphinha of Leeds who is adept at dribbling in tight spaces as we may find to our cost at the weekend.He was also acquired from the French League at a cost of 17m ,and is superior to Pepe in many ways.I have thought long and hard of how to get the best out of Pepe and I am convinced his future at Arsenal must be on the left wing where he can at least stretch his legs and cross on the run.To me he does not have the stamina,strength or football intelligence to link up with others as a left sided midfielder , but, hey, I might be wrong.I do not envy the challenge facing Arteta to develop Pepe into an effective player in the EPL but I wish him well.

  8. Nonsense, This is just a simple excuse to cover for the gross mismanagement and the dire performance by the team. Do you know how many big money new players that didn’t work for the teams like Chelsea, Liverpool, ManU and the rest of big teams? Plenty in case you don’t know, and those team still managed to perform well despite the hiccup. Player recruitment is as risky as any other business investment. If the team wants to compete with the other big teams, then this kind of things happens as long as it doesn’t common occurrence. They wanna act like a big team, then they have to walk the walk

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