It is fair to say that Nicholas Pepe has rarely proved that he was worth the 72million transfer fee that Arsenal paid to Lille, but last season he improved enough to score 10 League goals and 6 in the Europa League.
But we are expecting him to finally reach his potential this season given a run of games and with the fans back in the stadium cheering the team on. Not everyone may have noticed, but when the fans were finally allowed back into football matches at the end of last season, we played away at Crystal Palace and at home to Brighton, and Pepe scored two goals in both games. That made a massive difference to his stats as he had previously only had 6 goals in his previous 27 games!
So maybe we have now found the reason that he had been underperforming up to then. The Frenchman himself believes that having the crowd behind him makes a massive difference. “Frankly, the difference with an empty stadium is that the match feels a bit dead,” Pepe told Arsenal.com. “You can hear each other on the pitch but it’s the fans that really bring that 12th man. That’s what everyone misses.
“To be honest I played in a lot of empty stadiums before I turned pro, so it didn’t surprise me that much – but there isn’t anything that’s better about playing in an empty stadium than a full one. For me an empty stadium doesn’t have any positives.
“I tried to play the same in an empty stadium as I do when there are fans, but for me when you hear the crowd sing – especially if they call your name – it’s really emotional.
“It shows you the fans really care about you and it makes you really feel part of the club. It pushes you and when you hear them singing your name, it gives you an extra push. It really makes you want to score a goal and return the favour.
“I love the crowds in England,” he adds. “They are closer to the team. In France I don’t think they’re like that. Here they are really close and they truly support the team. They keep going and they push you. Whatever the action is, if it’s an attack or a good pass, it doesn’t matter, they encourage you. That’s the difference.”
If Arsenal can get Aubameyang back to his Golden Boot form after last season’s dip, and if Pepe returns to his amazing form he had at Lille, we could be in for a very interesting season indeed…