Tag Archives: nicolas pepe

Wilfried Zaha – Can Arsenal risk buying another African forward?

This summer Wilfried Zaha will likely be available, having been close to leaving Crystal Palace for both Everton and Arsenal last summer.

Arsenal should not longer be in the running for him.

For a start, we have recruited Nicolas Pepe. We also have Bukayo Saka on the left wing. We do not really need to go big for a winger when we have so many issues throughout the middle of the park – a defender, central midfielder and creative central midfielder as much more important.

But Arsenal’s recruitment team also need to ensure that we do not end up with too many African’s in the squad.

Now before you all start labelling me “racist” or whatever, there is plenty of logic behind keeping the amount of African players to a minimum.

The next African Cup of Nations is in 2022.

It was originally scheduled for January – February 2021, but due to the Covid19 outbreak has been delayed for 12 months.

Any player that is selected for their nation can expect to be unavailable for their club for around 6 weeks – 4 weeks for the tournament itself and 2 weeks for preparation.

Clubs will also be acutely aware of players returning from the continental tournament out of shape, over weight, and not ready to be thrown straight back into European football.

If you end up with a squad with too many African players in it, you could find yourself without some key players for nearly 2 months.

Taking a look at Arsenal, we currently have 2 key players who are African:

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon)
Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast)

If Aubameyang is still with us in 2022, and we signed Zaha, there would be a high chance that we would be losing our entire front 3 for 2 months come the tournament.

This would kill any chance Arsenal have of being competitive in 2022.

The club will also be keeping an eye of Bukayo Saka.

The Ealing born England youth international is of Nigerian heritage.

Whilst the youngsters preference is to play for England, and the Super Eagles recently announced that they would not “chase Saka”, a lot can happen in the next 18 months.

If Saka continues his current form, and is ignored by England (highly unlikely), he may well decide to make the switch from England to Nigeria in the same way Zaha switched from England to Ivory Coast.

That would potentially leave Arsenal without Aubameyang, Pepe, Zaha and Saka.

It would be a terrible position for the club to be in and questions would have to be asked as to why the recruitment team have amassed 4 players in similar attacking positions that could leave for 2 months.

Thomas Partey is Ghanaian and would also likely play in the tournament.

Were we to sign him as well, that would potentially be 20% of our squad unavailable in January 2022. By the time you add in the usual injuries from a tough winter period, Arsenal’s squad would be depelted.

The difference between Partey and Zaha, however, is position.

As a winger / forward, Arsenal will already be losing 2, maybe 3, players for the tournament. In the middle of the park we do not have other players likely to play in Cameroon.

If we signed Partey and lost him, we would have the squad depth to cover as we would have 3 or 4 other central midfielders.

As for Zaha, there would not be the cover. Even if Saka remains with the England set-up instead of changing his allegiance.

You need to build a balanced squad, and part of that balanced squad is ensuring that you do not lose too many players over the January period to the African Cup of Nations.

Likewise, teams keep an eye on South American players – as the Copa America tends to be played in odd numbered years; either the year before and World Cup or year after. This results in South American players playing for 3 straight seasons without a summer break (arguably what led to Alexis Sanchez’s loss of explosiveness).

The time to sign Zaha would have been last summer, but we ended up plumping for Nicolas Pepe.

Arsenal’s recruitment team will be focusing on non-African attacking options this summer to offset the potential departures of Aubameyang, Pepe and Saka in 2022.

Everton face a similar dilemma having signed Nigerian Alex Iwobi from Arsenal last summer. Would they really want to lose their left and right wingers for 2 months in 2022?



The inconsistency of VAR

Consistency. That’s all we ask for.

I have no issue with the Nicolas Pepe penalty decision against Sheffield United. As long as VAR is consistent.

Next time a referee points to the spot after Jamie Vardy, Son or Wilfried Zaha initiate contact and goes down, I expect VAR to intervene and overturn the decision.

Likewise I understand why Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was sent off against Crystal Palace. But since then how many other similar challenges have occurred and VAR has decided not to issue a red card?

VAR should not only exist to overturn “clear and obvious errors” but should also ensure a greater level of consistency in decision making. What is a penalty or red card in one game should be a penalty or red card in the next.

We have already seen with the Aubameyang red card that VAR lacks inconsistency. There have been at least 2 similar challenges since VAR upgraded yellow to red. In neither case was a red card issued.

We also know that between now and the end of the season, Vardy, Son or Zaha will go down under similar circumstances as Pepe. The ref will point to the spot and VAR will fail to overturn the penalty.

The problem with VAR is not the technology. It is those interpreting the incident.

An individuals interpretation of an incident still leads to inconsistent decision making. What one referee thinks is a penalty another might not.

The Calum Chambers “foul” for Sokratis last minute winner still baffles me. It wasn’t a foul yet the VAR decided it was. We have seen more blatant fouls ignored.

VAR can be a good thing. It worked well at the last World Cup. But in the Premier League it has lead to consistent decision making.

At the moment all it is doing is highlighting how inconsistent referees are.


Time for Arteta to trust in Pepe

Labelled as one of the most exciting talents in Europe following 22 goals in Ligue 1 for Lille last season, Arsenal stunned the world of football when they signed the Ivory Cost winger for a club record fee of £72million back in August.

Back in April, we discussed how he could be the new Eden Hazard, who joined Chelsea from Lille, but also warned that Gervinho came to the Premier League at a similar age and reputation.

All 3 players came to the Premier League  in their early 20s with very similar scoring records over the previous 2 seasons for Lille. Hazard scored 34 goals in all competitions, Gervinho 36 and Pepe 37.

Hazard and Gervinho had very different Premier League careers. One was one of the finest players to grace the league in the last decade, the other was a flop.

Half-way through his 1st season, Pepe has been closer to Gervinho than he has Hazard. Some have gone to label him a huge flop already following his huge price tag and justified the opinion of some that he was a penalty stat padder (9 of his 22 league goals came from the spot last year).

Misses against Liverpool and Sheffield bought back memories of Gervinho’s wastefulness. The Ghost of Bradford had returned.

Despite the misses, it did not feel like we were watching the incarnation of Gervinho

Gervinho was very technically poor. You would not catch him bending shots into the top corner or scoring free kicks. He could not pass, could not cross, could not shoot. He was a physicaly player. Quick, strong with a burst of acceleration that got him into space and made himself chances.

Highlight reels of Pepe at Lille had already shown his ability in dead ball situations, with numerous goals from open play from the outside of the box. This was a guy who was clearly technical sound.

From day 1 at Arsenal he was taking corners. He must have been showing something on the training ground to be our 1st choice set piece taker.

Against Vitoria de Guimaraes he showed he did have magic in his boots with two stunning free kicks. Both unsaveable no matter who was in goal.

But he was still struggling from open play. And successive managers from Unai Emery, Freddie Ljungberg and Mikel Arteta left him on the bench. He had fallen behind both Bukayo Saka and Riess Nelson.

He looked lightweight on the pitch, despite his 6-foot frame. Knocked off the ball to easy, he tired quickly and contributed little defensively.

Reports began to surface that he was not doing what was required in training.

Following being dropped to the bench against Norwich, Ljungberg told reporters “Pepe is a very good player, but I looked at what we did in training and what I see every day. And that is how I judge it.”

Pepe made his 9th start of the season against West Ham in the middle of December where he bent one perfectly in the top corner from just inside the box, reminding everyone that he has technical ability to go with his pace.

Against Manchester City he played a full 90minutes but looked laboured in what was his worst performance for Arsenal.

He failed to get off the bench in interim-manager Ljungberg’s last game in charge, and played just 12 minutes in Arteta’s first two games. The new manager deciding to start Nelson in both games and bring on Joe Willock before him.

Against Manchester United he put in a Man of the Match performance in Arsenal’s best result of the season, scoring with a first time finish.

Pepe was substituted off after 61 minutes and there are some clear conditioning issues there, but he is also clearly a big talent.

A lot will now come down to Pepe’s own mentality.

Does he buy into Arteta’s philosophy of demanding “120 per cent” commitment from every player? Is he going to follow Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s lead and start putting in a big defensive shift alongside his attacking prowess?

Despite having a slow start to his Arsenal career, Pepe has still has 5 goals and 5 assists in 1,245 minutes of football. That is a goal or assist every 124 minutes. That is a better contribution per minute that what Eden Hazard achieved in his first season (147 minutes) and the same as what Sadio Mane did in his first season at Liverpool.

What Pepe now needs is more game time. That will allow him to contribute more. Score more. Assist more.

With 17 league games as well as FA Cup and Europa League still to come, Pepe should be targeting to double what he has done so far.

20 goals and assists in his first season in English football will be a solid return and something that he can build on.

What Arteta now needs to do is trust in his record signing, play him. And Pepe needs to repay that by performing both on the pitch and at London Colney.

Pepe can become a huge player for Arsenal in the future. It is down to him to apply himself.