Nicolas Pepe has not enjoyed the best first season at Arsenal. However, there are numerous historical examples that support the case for patience.
It has not been the best start to life at Arsenal for club-record signing Nicolas Pepe. It is safe to say that he arrived with hefty expectations, having cost a handsome £72 million and scored more than 20 goals in Ligue 1 last season. But throughout his first year in the Premier League, bar brief glimpses of his potential in particular outings, his consistent performance has underwhelmed.
Nevertheless, despite his struggles, there is still reason to believe in Pepe’s future, as history can teach us. Pepe is not the first player to arrive in the Premier League and struggle. He will not be the last.
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Before Luis Suarez scored 54 goals and added 28 assists in two sensational seasons, he scored just 15 goals in his first 44 matches. In his first 18 months on Merseyside, he only scored 15 goals with 11 assists in the Premier League. Similarly, Didier Drogba only scored 22 goals across his first two league campaigns with Chelsea. He was not the bullying, bulldozing centre-forward of his prime from the moment he stepped onto English soil.
Arsenal themselves have plenty of players who struggled to adapt to English football. Consider Robert Pires, who would win the PFA Footballer of the Year award in his second season in the Premier League. His start was not so glittering.
“Wenger put me on the bench for my first game, against Sunderland,” Pires told Sportsmail in 2017. “He said ‘I know you are disappointed, I know you wanted to play but trust me, just sit and watch.’ After 20 minutes of watching the game I said to myself, ‘What am I doing here, this football is not for me. I cannot play here.’”
“The first six or seven months were very hard,” Pires continued. “It’s very tough in the UK. For me, it was totally different. English football and French football are not the same. You need to learn spirit, to learn fight. And to fight not only in the game but also during the training session. And that was all new to me.”
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Pepe has also shown glimpses. His briefly brilliant performances have been enough to convince some of his natural ability. This week, Andrey Arshavin told 888 Sport:
“Pepe is a very talented player. He is very quick and a good finisher. Already he has done well in part. Maybe not as much as he could but I see the potential and he will become one of the biggest stars in the Premier League. He will be huge.”
His first-season statistics are not completely out of sync with some of the premier wide attackers in the division now, either. Yes, Mohamed Salah hit the ground running, but Son Heung-min scored four goals and assisted one in 1,103 minutes in his first season at Spurs, while Raheem Sterling played just short of 2,000 minutes in his first season at Manchester City and scored only six goals and assisted just twice. Pepe’s six assists and four goals in 1,591 minutes does not look too shabby in comparison.
All this is to say that there is reason to believe in Pepe’s talent yet. These are some of the greats of the Premier League, past and present, and they did not all explode like a rocket from the moment they took to English football. It can take time, and Pepe has shown enough to be rewarded with patience for another season.