Arsenal fans are right to be excited about Nicolas Pepe. The Ivorian enjoyed a stellar campaign for Lille last year, scoring 22 goals and assisting another 11. The fact he was courted by Premier League rivals Manchester United and Liverpool before the Gunners spent a record-breaking £72 million on the 24-year-old underlines his pedigree across Europe’s elite.
Pepe grabbed the headlines – and won many new fans – by outclassing Kylian Mbappe in Lille’s 5-1 win over PSG last season. The right-winger scored a goal and bagged two assists in that game. In fact, Mbappe was the only man to score more Ligue 1 goals than Arsenal’s new acquisition in 2018/2019.
Arsenal’s fourth summer signing, penning a five-year contract, was born in France, making his professional debut in 2014 for Ligue 2 side Angers. Following a period of time in the side’s reserve team, he became a regular first-teamer in the 2016/2017 campaign. It was then that he won his first international cap. A year later he was signing a long-term deal with Lille before enjoying his best-ever season last term.
One thing the Emirates faithful will enjoy seeing is a directness – and willingness to shoot – from their new winger. For a side full of technically gifted players, all too often in recent years, Arsenal have been guilty of overplaying. Pepe, who enjoys cutting in from the right-wing and shooting with his left foot, will give the new-look Gunners a dimension they’ve been lacking.
While Manchester United fans will argue they’ve swung Champions League qualification back in their favour with the signing of centre-half Harry Maguire, their London rivals will understandably think the same about Pepe. Betfair’s free betting tips might currently see Arsenal listed as fifth favourites to finish in the top four behind United, but by adding the Ivorian’s talents to an already powerful frontline, there’s not a lot to choose between the Red Devils and the Gunners on paper.
In fact, Pepe gives manager Unai Emery even more pace to play with, making Arsenal a potent counter-attacking unit as well as a threatening side when in possession. The Emirates crowd will be licking their lips at the thought of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang flanked by Alexandre Lacazette and their new £72 million man.
The pressures of the Premier League will provide Pepe with a new challenge. But he’s already expressed admiration for teammates like Mesut Ozil who will have to use their experience to guide the young new recruit through his first full season.
Also, by stating his ambition to emulate Arsenal greats such as Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Patrick Vieira, he’s citing a heritage that’ll instantly appeal to the Emirates faithful.
While we might have to be patient to see the best of Pepe after his exertions in the Africa Cup of Nations, he adds another pacey dimension to an already dynamic and threatening attack. If Arsenal are to overcome their defensive frailties by simply being irresistible upfront, the silky skills of the Ivorian seem an ideal fit.