Nicolas Pepe could prove to be a decisive player if Mikel Arteta is to enjoy success as Arsenal boss.
Last summer’s big-money signing joined from Lille in a deal worth £72million, but a number of factors have so far prevented the winger from becoming the game-changing star the Gunners believed they had bought.
The unsuccessful managerial spell of Unai Emery is likely to have played a big part in that, so is there hope for Pepe now that Arteta has taken over as head coach.
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The Spaniard has overseen just 11 league fixtures so far, yet a points per game ratio of 1.63 is already better than Emery’s 1.29 and hints at a brighter future under the former Arsenal and Everton midfielder.
But with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Özil likely to leave the club in the next year or two, Arteta will need to get the best out of Pepe if he is to meet those expectations.
One of the key issues of Emery’s tactical approach as Arsenal boss was a lack of cohesion that led to a disjointed team that was constantly being changed.
His use of a variety of formations and personnel prevented Pepe or any of his team-mates from building partnerships or creating a fluid attacking system.
Throwing together a couple of talented forwards and crossing your fingers just isn’t enough if you want to be challenging for the Premier League top four, and so Pepe’s role playing alongside Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette under Emery was rather directionless.
On top of that, Aubameyang has shouldered the responsibility of scoring most of the goals this season, which shows how infrequent the contributions from his team-mates have been.
Former Arsenal boss Unai Emery with Nicolas Pepe.
(Image: Stuart MacFarlane)
Such an imbalance in the Arsenal side is something Arteta will be keen to change, and there have been several early signs that suggest he can out right the wrongs of his predecessor.
To start with, Pepe could benefit from Arteta’s more organised structure when the Gunners are out of possession.
A far less penetrable midfield than previously seen would help the 24-year-old to better showcase his ball-carrying abilities.
Winning the ball back in deeper-lying positions, the winger would be better able to drive forward at pace and link with the likes of Aubameyang and Lacazette in dangerous areas.
So far this season, we’ve seen little of Pepe’s counter-attacking strengths because of the lack of cohesion in the side.
Above all else, Arteta’s arrival has created a sense of familiarity that was not previously seen under Emery. The new boss is more settled in his player and formation choices, and also appears to have a style of football that he wants to develop.
Arsenal during the break
Such familiarity on the left…