Arsenal’s record signing has not illuminated English football as was expected after his big-money move from Lille. He has flattered to deceive during his time in the English capital. There have been glimpses of his skill on display, but the occasions have been few and far between.
It was only last week that Pepe expressed his desire to have more game time for Arsenal. Arteta has given him a starting role mostly in the Europa League, limiting his role to that of a substitute in Premier League games. However, after a rigorous international break for Arsenal’s first-team regulars, Pepe was given a start against Leeds on Sunday. Pepe started the game well with one of his crosses hitting the top of the bar. He also tried a long-range strike from the right with his left foot, but couldn’t get the desired curl on the ball.
As the game progressed, he drifted away. There was very little link-up between him and Aubameyang in attack. Moreover, he didn’t support Bellerin to protect his flank. This was a primary reason that most of Leeds’ attacking play was down the left. If not for Leno’s presence and, to some extent, Leeds’ misfortune, Arsenal would have been punished severely.
Pepe had a tussle with Alioski early in the second half. That culminated in him head-butting Alioski off the ball, albeit softly. VAR reviewed the incident and advised the on-field referee Anthony Taylor, who wasted no time and brandished a straight red card to Pepe.
For a person looking for more game time, it was a hugely disappointing day. He has given Arteta no evidence to cement his spot in the first team. Moreover, he won’t be available for the next few games owing to the red card.
Emery made it clear that Pepe is a player he had little knowledge about and his first-choice signing was Zaha. Arsenal clearly went for potential over experience in choosing Pepe over Zaha. After more than a season of adaptation, Pepe has failed to deliver. His match-winning double in the Europa League against Vitoria, from two consecutive free kicks, was followed by a slew of disappointing performances last season.
At 25 years, Nicolas Pepe still has time to hone his skills and become a better player. Mo Salah came to Chelsea as a 22-year-old with immense potential, only to be loaned out to Fiorentina and Roma. The Egyptian was the same age as Pepe, 25, in his final season at Roma. Suddenly, upon joining Liverpool, he kicked into a different gear. One can only hope that Pepe, if he works hard enough, could undergo a similar transformation under Mikel Arteta. If so, Arsenal will have a top quality player in their ranks, and he will serve the club in his prime.
Author: Kshitiz Choudhary
Photo: Bigmatbasket, Wikimedia Commons