“Today Arsenal have officially announced the £72 million signing of Ivorian international Nicolas Pepe from Lille”. It doesn’t matter how many times you say it, it still doesn’t sound right… an Arsenal signing worth over £50 million? Can’t be right, can it? Don’t worry you’re not the only one who had to rub your eyes and undergo breathalyser test to make sure that you hadn’t drank too much.
Despite the French National Team being the current holders of the World Cup and having players on their bench that would not only walk into most other nation’s first XI but probably wear the captain’s armband, their domestic league, Ligue 1, is considered to be the weakest of the five major European leagues (the other being Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga). Therefore it is no surprise that signings from the French league have proven to be such a an unknown quantity for Premier League clubs, so much so that many of the bigger clubs would rather not take the risk and instead wait for the player to get snapped up by smaller team (mid-table or relegation battlers) and only sign them after they have proven themselves at that level, even if it means having to buy them at a higher value after.
If there’s one team who’ve consistently gotten it right more than they’ve gotten it wrong it would be Arsenal… Nicolas Anelka… Emmanuel Adebayor… Patrick Vieira… Olivier Giroud… Yaya Sanogo (sorry, that last one was a typo), the list goes on. Nicolas Pépé is the latest addition to this historic relationship between the Gunners and players plying their trade in Ligue 1.
At £72 million I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Arsenal have got a bargain, but sometimes a bargain simply isn’t possible, sometimes you need to pay above the odds to sign a player that will make a difference, and in Nicolas Pépé, Arsenal may have just have found their man. The Ivorian is lightning in a bottle. If you haven’t seen Nicolas Pépé play before, I suggest you go and find the first YouTube compilation you can click on and get your popcorn ready because the Ivorian is an entertainer. The Ivorian arrives at the Emirates having scored 22 goals and assisting 11 goals in Ligue 1, only finishing second to Kylian Mbappe in the scoring charts, whilst topping the assist charts.
Along with Rafael Leão, Pépé was a leading light in a Lille side that exceeded expectation with second place finish last season. The arrogance and aplomb are just what Arsenal need right now and manager Unai Emery will be hoping that it has an infectious effect over the whole squad In the same way that Dennis Bergkamp’s arrival in the mid-90’s had.
However, it is necessary to note that the Arsenal front three even with Pépé’s inclusion suffers from being inflexible. Aubamayang is capable of playing off of the left and through the middle, but Lacazette is not as versatile and can only really operate as the focal point of the attack. All three players are talented enough to form a potent attacking force but it will probably take another signing in the midfield and a season for them to gel together before Arsenal fans get to see Pépé’s best form.
Verdict: A Good Statement Of Intent For The Gunners Who Will Take Some Time To Settle In But Will Set The League Alight When He Does.