I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that Nicolas Pépé has more to offer.
That’s not to say that he had a bad season at Arsenal. Actually, for a player entering a new league and having to adapt to a more physical game, he put together a solid introductory year.
While he started slowly, Nicolas Pépé tallied eight goals and ten assists in all competitions. His double-digit assists were enough to put him second behind Bukayo Saka for team assists during the campaign, and a few came at the season’s most important moments.
The reason that it feels like he could have, maybe should have, made a bigger splash this year is because of the waves he made at Lille last season. He totalled 23 goals and 12 assists, and scoring 20+ goals while dishing out over ten assists puts him in a category consisting of the best players Europe has to offer. Pépé was only outscored in the league by Kylian Mbappe.
Also, signing with Arsenal as their most expensive transfer in the club’s 134-year history brings upon some serious expectations, some warranted and some not.
To sign with such a large club at such a high price brings on pressure that I, nor anyone reading this, has ever faced. A £72m price tag on your head and all the promises that it carries tend to weigh heavy.
Now that he has a season under his belt and is backed by a club on the upswing, this might be the year that Pépé takes his game to the next level.
We saw flashes of confidence every so often last year. In the first half of the 2-0 win over Manchester United to start the new year, he was buzzing. He scored an early goal, his first of the season from open play, and was undoubtedly the best player on the pitch before half time.
Similarly, Pépé showed his attacking guile in Arsenal’s 4-0 win over Newcastle in February. Working from his patented right-wing, he floated in a cross met by an Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang header for the first goal of the game. After that boost of confidence, he scored one and assisted another to cap off a stellar night.
Hopefully, Pépé’s confidence will only continue to climb as the 2020/21 season starts.
Now that the Ivorian has been able to settle into the team and Mikel Arteta’s vision is clear, Pépé could be a marquee player for the Gunners in his second season.
This summer, the focus has been primarily on signings new names along with the re-signing of Aubameyang, so the pressure is not as burdensome on Pépé’s shoulders. He could be in a great position to put the league on notice.
Pépé’s style – his slithering movement through the fractures of a defense and his quick acceleration – is special. No one on Arsenal can take on a defender one-on-one like he does, and when he pulls a left-back out to be stuck on Pépé island, you can’t help but feel bad for the poor soul.
Pépé has the make-up to be a star in the Premier League. He’s a showman, as seen in his shifty body feints and his dozens of victims to nutmegs.
Honestly, he’s just an ultra-cool player. He’s nonchalant about all that he does, whether it be lasering in a penalty or sniping a free-kick from 30 yards out. Pépé is the type of player that just exudes swagger. That itself makes me want him to be a superstar.
It also wouldn’t hurt the team for Pépé to take on a larger role. This season, he’ll be part of a swift attack that is made up of himself, Aubameyang, Willian, Saka, Alexandre Lacazette and any other youngster who proves able to hold their own. Pépé’s creativity could be the spark of an attack that proves to be one of the top-flight’s most robust.
One of Pépé’s strongest attributes, his flair, makes him plenty of fun to watch. Once he figures out how to make that flair more effective by going towards goal and making progressive runs, he could be the nightmare for opposing teams. His strengths will be only heightened if Arsenal can provide more support on the right wing, which would come from a facilitator in the middle or an overlapping outside-back.
It’s no secret the Pépé has the temperament of a star. Now it’s time for him to tap into his potential and unleash what could be the Premier League’s next big thing.