Tag Archives: nicolas pepe

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.


Nelson and Willock set to be dropped as Pepe in line for first start

Arsenal will look to continue their 1 game unbeaten run in the Premier League this weekend against Burnley.

Having beaten Newcastle 1-0 at St James’ Park, Unai Emery has a bit of a selection headache.

Does he stick with the players who defended well, but created little for the match against Burnley; or does he bring in some of the fit again senior pro’s, including a couple of new signings.

Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, Matteo Guendouzi and Calum Chambers all performed well against Newcastle and probably do not deserve to be dropped. However Emery will know how important it is to play the best team available, even if it ruffles a few feathers.

David Luiz sat patiently on the bench against Newcastle following his deadline day arrival. He had a full pre-season with Chelsea and is ready to play. Will Emery pick Luiz over Chambers or Sokratis? My bet is Emery might just reward Sokratis and Chambers with a fine 1st display and keep the pair in defence.

With Hector Bellerin, Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac all out for one reason or another, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Nacho Monreal will be the full backs.

Moving to the middle of the park, the axis of Granit Xhaka and Guendouzi provided good cover for the defence. But at home against an average side, do we need to play 2 defensive midfielders? Could Real Madrid loanee Dani Ceballos come in for one? Giving the side a more creative option for deep.

And what for Lucas Torreira?

The Uruguayan midfielder played next to no part in pre-season (just 4 minutes against Barcelona) due to only returning to training on 1st August after the summers Copa America. Taking into account Xhaka and Guendouzi played a full part, I would not expect him to start against Burnley – he did not even get off the bench against Newcastle.

If Arsenal are winning comfortably, I expect Torreira to come off the bench and be given 20 minutes as he regains full match fitness.

That leaves Xhaka, Guendouzi and Ceballos fighting it out for the central midfield positions.

I actually think we might see all 3 start, with Ceballos replacing Joe Willock as creator in chief.

Willock had an OK game against Newcastle, but his performance is more remembered for a tackle than anything he created. He is a hard working talented footballer and I see his career actually being a little deeper than playing Number 10.

At home against Burnley we do not have to worry as much defensively, so it might be a better option to play the more attack minded Ceballos with Willock relegated to the bench.

On the wings, record signing Nicolas Pepe looked fairly sharp on Sunday despite only recently returning to training following playing in the African Cup of Nations and the stress of his big move.

Games like Liverpool away is why Pepe was bought. His pace and power key on the break. For that reason I expect him to start against Burnley on the right hand side, replacing Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Pepe to be substituted off on 60 minutes will be a bank bet if he starts.

The left wing is an interesting conundrum.

Nelson had a solid game against Burnley and you also have the aforementioned Mkhitaryan. Alexandre Lacazette is also available which gives Emery the option of playing Aubameyang wide left.

With one eye on that Liverpool game, I have a hunch that Emery might plumb for Lacazette up top and Aubameyang on the left. That will give 60 minutes to his 1st choice front 3 – Aubameyang, Lacazette, Pepe.

It might be harsh on Willock and Nelson, but football is not a business of compassion. We ned to play the best team we can. That means an exciting front 4 of Ceballos, Pepe, Aubameyang, Lacazette.

Expect Willock and Nelson to come off the bench (if we are not chasing the game) as well as Lucas Torreira.

It is exciting to actually have so many options.

Expected starting XI:


AMN Chambers Sokratis Monreal

Xhaka Guendouzi

Pepe Ceballos Aubameyang