Pepe Can Be a Lethal Striker For Arsenal by Goonerboy
Arsenal tremendously broke their transfer record in the summer of 2019 by signing Ivory Coast international Nicolas Pépé for a mouth-watering fee of £72m. The 24-year-old forward had a fantastic breakout campaign for Lille in the previous season scoring 22 goals and contributing 11 assists in Ligue 1 from the right-wing. Having been linked with some of the biggest clubs in the world such as Bayern Munich and Manchester United, the Gunners were able to secure the signing of Pépé – one that was supposed to help propel Arsenal back into the Champions League.
However, Arsenal had a turbulent 2019/20 campaign as they had three different managers at the helm. Coinciding with Arsenal’s poor form was Pépé’s underwhelming debut campaign, wherein he only contributed to 14 goals in 32 games in all competitions. Having arrived with much fanfare, he has only shown glimpses of his superb quality albeit in an unbalanced squad and a team that lacked a clear playing style under Unai Emery.
This tactical analysis will take a look at the 24-year-old’s scout report and how he excelled at Lille, and then we will discuss the tactics that Arteta can implement to help Pépé flourish in England
First, we will take a look at Pépé’s playing style and some of his best traits to understand what makes him tick at a deeper level.
One of the Ivorian’s best attributes is his electric dribbling. He ranks 5th in the Premier League in dribbles attempted per game with 7. However, he does only complete 40% of his dribbles, which is a low percentage especially given his quality in this area. It is worth noting that he did also have a relatively low success rate of 44% at Lille. The reason why his success rates have dropped compared to last season is due to the slight change of role at Arsenal and the difference in playing style between the two teams.
Under Christophe Galtier, he was predominantly tasked with attacking in the final third and thus, opposition players were under greater pressure to get the tackle correct. Lille also played a counter-attacking brand of football, meaning that Pépé had much more space to work with. At Arsenal, he usually progresses the attack from a deeper position and the Gunners usually come up against teams playing a deep-block, which results in less space for Pépé to get past the opposition defenders.
Dribbling, when used correctly and within context, is a powerful tactic in all stages of the match. When analysing Pépé, we can see that he uses his dribbling in different situations and with a different purpose. With that in mind, we can see him dribble to either fuel the build-up and progress the play or create chances and be a direct threat to the opposition’s goal.
Finishing and off the ball movement
Pépé is a player that always has an eye for goal whenever attacking but has struggled in finding the net at Arsenal, only scoring four times in 24 Premier League appearances. His shot numbers since coming to North London have also dropped from 3.1 to 1.8 shots per game, which is down to his change in role and perhaps the step-up in quality in the Premier League compared to Ligue 1.
He still has room to improve in the finishing department as shown by his xG values in the last two seasons. At Arsenal, he has only managed to have an xG of 4.81 and in his last season at Lille where he scored 22 goals, he had an xG of 21.23. Elite finishers tend to overperform their xG values consistently, which Pépé has yet to have done. This could be seen as a positive as it means that he could score more goals in the future. It should be noted that in his last season in Lille, eight of his goals came from the penalty spot meaning that replicating such a huge goal tally at Arsenal would have been a tough task.
At Arsenal, there have been glimpses of his great movement. However, due to the Gunners’ attacking structure, he has been unable to make good runs on a more consistent basis and this will be discussed later on. Pépé is a very instinctive and intelligent player and is thus able to make superb runs or either find space in a crowded area.
An underrated trait of Pépé’s is his passing ability and his quality in chance creation. As mentioned earlier, he was able to tally 11 assists before his move to the Gunners, which is a great indicator of his quality in creating for his teammates. That tally was no fluke as his xA from that season was 10.38. He is also second in the team for key passes per game in the league with 1.4 – only Özil has more at 2.1. His pass accuracy is quite low at 80.7% but that is expected since he is a wide player who looks to play difficult passes in the final third.
Pépé’s role at Arsenal
For Arsenal, Pépé’s role changed a little bit and unfortunately for the 24-year-old, there is a stark contrast in how Arsenal play compared to Lille. The Gunners are a possession-based team and will often face off against teams in a lower block – something Lille did not have to do as often. This meant that Pépé would have less counter-attacking opportunities at Arsenal than he did in France, he therefore has to combine with the fullbacks to act as a chance creator.
Pepe has shown he is a good finisher as seen again last week, he has the dribbling ability to beat one or two markers and score goals. Aubameyang has shown that you don’t have to be a rounded footballer to be an elite striker, so why not give it a shot?
It will be difficult to get a buyer for him except if we are ready to make a significant loss on the amount we paid and are still paying for him, so why not get creative about it?
What do you think?