Pepe to OGC Nice: Good Move for the Player and the Club
Pepe’s current statistical records at Arsenal reads – 112 appearances, 27 goals, 14 assists.
This is certainly not an amazing return from a player that joined the club for a record fee of £72m in the summer of 2019. In the second episode of the Gooner Daily Podcast, I discussed about the Curious Case of Nicolas Pepe, where I shared my thoughts about my thoughts on his situation at the club.
Despite being the club’s most expensive acquisition, he clearly started on the wrong foot as he wasn’t his manager’s choice as an attacking signing – it was well documented that the Arsenal gaffer, Unai Emery (good ebening), wanted the services of a certain Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace, an established Premier League right-footed inverted left winger that would have cost £80m, but Raul Sanllehi, in his infinite fraudulence and wisdom, I suppose, signed a relatively unknown left-footed inverted right winger that had a breakthrough campaign for £8m less.
Zaha has gone to improve in leaps and bounds for Crystal Palace, earning a talismanic status in the club, while Pepe, on the other hand, has been on the trenches.
However, the disgruntled Emery didn’t give Pepe the Jose Mourinho treatment of Andriy Shevchenko, but instead, featured the Ivorian winger consistently alongside Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the Arsenal attack, and in all honesty, Pepe didn’t light up any fireworks. His opening goal for the club was actually a gift from Aubameyang, when the Gabonese forward gracefully allowed Pepe play the penalty kick against Aston Villa, which he converted. Pepe’s first triumphant moment with the club arrived when he converted two free kicks against Victoria Guimaraes, coming on as a substitute. Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Pepe.
Sadly, things turned really sour at Arsenal and Unai Emery lost his job, with Mikel Arteta taking over, but Pepe still got a chance to feature for the new gaffer. Unfortunately, Pepe couldn’t build on his good end of season form with the arrival of that aged pensioner from Chelsea, Willian. For the life of me, I couldn’t fathom why Arsenal gave a three year deal to a 32-year-old, and his performances clearly showed he wasn’t half arsed, which is why I was quite bemused when he terminated his contract with us after one season to join Corinthians in his native Brazil.
With Willian featuring consistently on the right wing, Pepe had a bit-part role in the team but eventually won his place back when the Brazilian’s form was so poor that it stunk all over the place. Pepe justified his selection and grabbed the bull by the horns by actually putting up some outstanding performances, finishing that campaign with 16 goals in 47 appearances.
The biggest dent to Pepe’s fledgling progress was the emergence of last season’s Player of the Year, Bukayo Saka. Despite being older than Saka and more technically astute, Pepe couldn’t offer more to his game than the Young Englishman – defensive contributions, intelligent link up play, better decision making in the final third and most importantly, the manager’s trust.
Saka’s continuous sojourns on the right wing relegated Pepe to the bench on a permanent basis and with Arsenal failing to qualify for Europe last season, Pepe made to make do with three early League Cup appearances, scoring two goals against West Brom and Sunderland, with Saka getting the nod as Arsenal progressed to the latter stages of the competition. It was even worse in the Premier League, with Pepe garnering only 600 minutes from a possible 3,420, with his only telling contribution in the League coming in the 2-1 win against Wolves.
Arsenal’s pursuit of Raphinha this summer, despite signing Marquinhos, showed that the Gunners wanted an upgrade on Pepe to provide better competition to Saka. With the Brazilian opting to sign for Broke-lona, the tabloids reported that Arsenal are chasing Wolves’ Pedro Neto, which is also considered as another upgrade on Pepe.
With these transfer speculations of an incoming winger, it only made sense for Pepe and his representatives to seek a move elsewhere, as his future no longer lies within the Emirates Stadium. The club has officially announced that the winger would be joining French outfit, OGC Nice, on a loan move for the entirety of the 2022/23 campaign. With Pepe joining Arsenal on a five-year deal in 2019, he will have one more year left, following the completion of his loan spell with Nice, with one foot on the exit door on a permanent basis. Hopefully, he will rediscover his 2018/19 form in Ligue Un that saw him score 23 goals and supply 16 assists.
Kudos to Pepe for staying as a model professional through this ordeal. For a player that was signed for such huge money, one would have expected that he would have shown some form of agitation for staying on the bench for so long, but as Arseblog suggests, He’s probably an introvert.
Pepe’s exit certainly opens the door for a new winger signing, like Neto, unless the club has bigger plans for Marquinhos, that has been tearing it up at Under-21 level. We also have Fabio Vieira, that’s adept on the right flank, but one thing is for sure – Saka needs competition and we can only hope he gets it this season.
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