Could Willian keep Arsenal’s record signing benched long-term? (opinion)

Willian made his debut for Arsenal in the weekend’s 3-0 win over Fulham, but where does that leave Nicolas Pepe?

The Ivory Coast international joined the club last summer in a club-record £72 Million deal, BBC stated, and struggled to hit the ground running initially.

Mikel Arteta’s arrival in December brought vast improvements from the former Lille winger, much like he brought improvement from a large number of the group, and he very much killed off any talk of him being labelled an expensive flop with his performances in 2020.

So far this season however, Pepe has found himself left out of both the Community Shield win over Liverpool, as well as being benched for the opening Premier League weekend win over Fulham, with new signing Willian stealing the limelight in his place.

The Brazilian picked up two assists, as well as forcing the Fulham keeper into making an error for the first goal, with Willian’s shot being parried into the path of Alexandre Lacazette to tap home. I’d personally credit that with a third assist, but he was officially given just the two.

Arsenal now have another London derby in West Ham to contend in the coming weekend, and you would struggle to find a reason to drop the former Chelsea forward, but where does that leave Nicolas Pepe?

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is indispensable in his LW role, and Mikel Arteta appears to have zero intention of playing him centrally, which could well limit Pepe to the bench for some time.

You also have to consider the fact that Bukayo Saka is knocking on the door for minutes too, with the 18 year-old getting the nod to start in the front three in the Community Shield, before missing out at the weekend also.

Saka can of course fill in at wing-back, or as part of a midfield three as he did during the previous campaign, but Pepe has so far been limited to just the one role.

There has been talk of a possible switch to a back four, with a 4-2-3-1 system eyed which could well open the door for Willian to move into a central role in behind the striker, making room out wide, but we are yet to find out if those rumours are true.

Could Pepe be third-choice for his favoured role at present? And does his best bet at regular action stem on a formation change by the boss?


Tags Bukayo Saka Nicolas Pepe Willian


    1. You can have willian as no10 and you then have Auba,Laca and Pepe upfront..Hopefully if we can have Partey and Aoura then we deploy 4:3:2:1 formation or effective 4:3:3 with
      Partey ,Auora and William in mildfield while Pepe ,Laca and Auba upfront

      1. 👍 Isn’t competition what Arsenal needs, with players picked on form and opposition?
        Attack and defense on the way forward, now midfield.

  1. It’s a long season, Pepe will surely get his chance.
    OT: Gareth Bale to spurs is almost done, I respect him more now because he could have just decided to stay put and keep collecting his huge salary like some of our players.

    1. It’s a loan deal, isn’t it? Chances are that he could still be collecting his full salary with RM and Tottenham sharing the burden.

  2. Third choice? And who said there’s a hierarchy?
    I believe it will just come down to rotation and playing the best person for a particular game. Willian off the bench, Pepe off the bench, I’m just happy to have both.
    Saka though not only might, but will struggle for game time. This would only get worse if we signed Aouar. He’d then be 3rd choice for every position he can play.

  3. MUFC in for Gabriel, Gabriel joins Arsenal
    MUFC in for Ake, Ake joins City
    MUFC in for Reguilon, Reguilon joins Spurs
    MUFC in for Bale, Bale re-joins Spurs
    MUFC in for Thiago, Thiago joins Liverpool
    MUFC in for Sancho, Sancho stays at BvB
    😂😂😂 love it!! Boo-hoo poor mancs!

    1. Did they not sign Van Beek from Ajax for £40m? Utd are not done yet. Think we need to worry if we dont get Thomas Partey or a CDM/big-box of his quality. No creative out put from midfield so Aouer is a must also. I’d love both but I dont see it happening.

  4. Great question Patrick! Bet that comment surprises you! I DO believe that Pepe’s inclusion will revolve aound either injuries and/or a change of shape, as you outline. Right now It seems inconceivable to leave Willian out in favour of Pepe.
    The sheer difference in work rate is Pepe’s biggest handicap, when compared to Willian. Work , ferocious and committed work, ALL the time! There is no effective substitute for it, eh Mesut, Theo, etc?

  5. Probably rotation and competition.
    Nelson was never gone be a worthy competition for Pepe, even while Pepe was struggling. Nelson was ever a competition.
    Right now Willian is here and he’s a worthy competition.
    It’s really that simple.
    Willian can play LW or RW.
    I see him being used mostly for rotation and squad depth, and if Pepe refuses to step up, he’ll be confined to the bench and William would take his place.
    I thought the popular fact is that Arteta’s preferred formation long term is the 4-3-3. Where is there 4-2-3-1 coming from? Do we have an AM to play the number 10?
    Oh oh, people still think Willian will be an AM.
    Lol okay

  6. The season is along with many games to play, everyone I’m sure will play a part at sometime and we are not going to invest £72m on a player to move him on straight away, his form did improve after the restart though.

  7. Pepe cannot keep being benched because he’s supremely talented.

    The best way and formation is to shift Willian to the middle in 4-2-3-1.

    However Arteta cannot implement it immediately because the midfield behind them contains many slow decision making players.

    That’s the reason why the coach is implementing a more defensive 3-4-3 formation which ought to be used only against super teams like Liverpool and Man City.

  8. It’s highly unlikely that Willian will be played, other than as a winger.He has rarely featured as a no 10, and if Aouar is brought in ,he will be used in that position .As it is Pepe will need to improve in a number of areas if he is to become a regular starter but he has a lot of natural talent which Arteta is capable of developing I have no doubt.Personally I could see him eventually as a left side midfielder operating in a 4-3-3 system but time will tell.

  9. A lot of people
    Talking about Utd in the comments like it weren’t the same Utd that finished 3rd whilst we embarrassed ourselves all season.

    Reckon we should concentrate on our own team (especially midfield) the one position that Utd strengthened that propelled them into 3rd

    Just a thought

    1. Well we’d have finished a lot higher if we’d been given the number of penalties they had… but then we’re not that lucky are we?!!

      1. Sue, Nicholas’ comment regarding Bruno Fernandez is valid, but it helps playing with 12 men, with Mike Riley in your corner.

  10. I think Willian on a free is one of the best signings we have made. Years ago I would have taken Douglas Costa over Willian. I was wrong…Willian is a class act. Many smaler players like Santi, Xavi, and Iniesta, play top class till they are 35. We have got a great deal. Along with Saliba and Gabriel…. I am excited. If we get Houssem Aouar as well….I think we will challenge. I am excited.

  11. Pepe will surely get playing time, don’t forget we have alot of cups to play and injuries will set it at a point. I see Arteta trying to use older players to teach the young blood how it’s done. So pepe can learn from Willian and be one of our best players in future. we just need partey and Aouar as the last piece. If other players come in fine but those two will be a enough to challenge for top 4 and fa cup or Europa or epl cup. I believe in Arteta project

  12. Pepe will get his game time considering the packed schedule we have this season. But as of now, Willian is simply irrepacable. So much for the competition for places. It will only make AFC a better and tougher team.

  13. William will develop Pepe sure, William will start for teams that play physical football, because pepe cant defend. When it comes to holding d ball and making counters pepe really improved after the restart. Finally Arsenal has some tricks in their sleeve🏆

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