Arsenal was without Nicolas Pep against Wolverhampton, but they won the match without him while replicating what he usually brings.
I’m one of those people that tries really hard not to complain about an Arsenal starting XI before I see them in action, but when Nicolas Pepe wasn’t in the side, I was distraught. And for about 40 minutes, my irritability didn’t fare so well.
With how dull and uninspired that first 40ish minutes was, the match had the makings of one that needed the individual inspiration of Pepe, who was instead off in a hospital somewhere with his wife, who was giving birth.
And yet, the 2-0 scoreline would have looked identical with Pepe out there. Mostly because both goals were scored in a way that Pepe would have scored or assisted them.
For starters, on that first goal, Saka made the cutback the exact way that Pepe would have and scored with the same foot he would have too.
This wasn’t the first opportunity for a cutback, however.
There was one instance in particular when Kieran Tierney played a brilliant cutback pass that no one was there for. It was the same play that nearly produced a goal against Sheffield. In that moment, I was screaming that Pepe would have been there. But the second time, Saka read it better and put himself in a position to be there for the goal.
That second goal was just as Pepe-esque as the first one. Joe Willock, now playing Pepe’s position, took the ball into space using his speed and ball control and, going at the defender, he hovered confidently, waiting for the opening, at which point he slipped it into Lacazette.
Both of these goals looked like something that Pepe would have done, and that’s something to be excited about. Because as I said, this match needed inspiration, the kind that Pepe usually provides, especially as of late. We were never going to find that inspiration from him, as he wasn’t there, so instead the team came together as a unit and replicated the kind of attacking plays Pepe would have instigated.
How many times this year have I said that Pepe would have made a difference? This is the first time I haven’t needed to say that. All thanks to inspired attacking play that proves that Pepe isn’t the only guy in this attack who can make something happen. We’ve needed that reassurance.