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When Nicolas Pepe is Nicolas Pepe, get out of the way

Arsenal fans somehow still can’t agree on Nicolas Pepe, yet when he is truly in his element, there is nothing that can stop him. And that counts for something.

For as much as I belabor the point of Granit Xhaka being worth it, I don’t feel like it’s belaboring when I do the same for Nicolas Pepe. Arsenal‘s record signing has somehow divided opinion this season, despite the undeniable fact that he produces a goal more frequently than anyone else on the roster.

Against Sheffield United, in an FA Cup semifinal that felt a lot like a Premier League match, Nicolas Pepe was back at it, being Nicolas Pepe. After sputtering a bit against Southampton despite a superb solo performance against Brighton, Pepe was in control against Sheffield.

And what happens when Pepe is in control? You just get out of the way and let him control it. Pepe was so good, even Bukayo Saka couldn’t keep up. Everything was flowing through Pepe’s side of the pitch and the attack was better off because of it.

Nicolas Pepe knows how to run the show

While the Gunners fell behind in momentum early on, after Pepe slotted home the penalty with ease, he sprung into the spotlight, nearly doubling the lead minutes later and coming close yet again before half.

Even when the attack wasn’t flowing through his side, the focus was on him. When Kieran Tierney drove down the left flank, he played the cutback for Pepe, making his run across the goal box.

All eyes on Pepe.

But it doesn’t matter how many defensive eyes stayed on Pepe because he was too quick, too efficient, to be stifled. He didn’t lose possession a single time in that brilliant first half. Not a single time. It was pure, untarnished attacking brilliance, and that continued well into the second half.

This isn’t anything new, though. This is what Pepe does when he truly gets in control. And that happens far more often than he gets credit for. He takes complete control of the match and everything can go through him. Successfully too. You know the getting is good when Saka is pretty much irrelevant.

Next: Arsenal vs Sheffield Player Ratings

While Pepe faded into the last 15-20 minutes of the match, his impact had already shaped the match. By the time he faded, Saka saw the opportunity to step into the spotlight and take over, but it was Pepe who had stamped his skill on this match.

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