We looked a far better side when Nicolas Pepe came on.
Proceeding with caution here – since getting caught up in the moment has been one of the regular features of Nicolas Pepe’s time at Arsenal – that goal could have a significant bearing on how this season pans out for our Ivorian.
When any player isn’t firing on all cylinders, us onlookers search for that one moment that turns the tide.
A narrative that supporters are desperately hoping comes to fruition is the one where Pepe scores a goal, and in an instant evolves into this £72m player who makes Premier League football look like a stroll through a tranquil park.
That park being the Emirates, and the stroll is him marauding his way past opposing defenders with devastating speed and panache.
His goal after being fed by Hector Bellerin at the end of a 19-pass move was expertly taken, and dare I say, Lille-esque. Flashes of his capability have been absurdly few and far between in his time at the club, but as soon as such a moment in conjured up we are transported back to that rip-roaring season in 2018/19.
A neat give-and-go with Bellerin saw him turn on the afterburners, leaving Enda Stevens for dust. Upon collecting the ball, there was no sudden urge to cut inside – a trait that can be predictable and infuriating in equal measures – instead opting to drive at goal with pace. Circumstances can lead to these positions being a rarity for Pepe to find himself in, but he clutched this opportunity with both hands and coolly slotted the ball home via the inside of the post.
Quite a collected and precise finish.
Not just his goal should be reason for optimism moving forward, but indeed his overall contribution. In a three-pronged attack with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang down the middle and Buyako Saka on the other flank, there was glimpses of what we may see further down the line. Pepe was inventive in possession, wise with his distribution and emanated a self-assurance that visibly comes from scoring a goal.
I think we can take real credence from that 35-minute cameo we saw on Sunday.
However, such positivity must come with the reminder that we’ve been in this position before. This isn’t the first time we’ve earmarked a particular moment where Pepe can kick on from. Ensuring it’s the last is what matters.