With the constant promises of success in recent years coming to fruition under Mikel Arteta’s 2022/23 squad this now begs the question, where will loanee Nicolas Pepe find himself come the end of the season?
Although experiencing brief superstar moments in previous seasons it is understood amongst arsenal fans alike that Pepe was not at the calibre expected when wearing an Arsenal shirt. This also seemed to be the mindset decided at the Arsenal board with their temporary transfer out on loan to Ligue One side OCG Nice.
For Nicolas Pepe, the Ivorian star was criticised during his time at Arsenal due to his underbilling performances when attacking and lack of defensive attributes expected for a record-breaking signing. Most Arsenal fans will recognise the greatness of signings such as White, Tomiyasu and Martinelli as great strides in Arsenal’s progress to a premier league winning club however are quick to forget the flop and disappointing displays from Nicolas Pepe during his time at arsenal. After the end of the 2021/22 season, with a mere 20 substitute appearances in the premier league for the Gunners and only totalling 681 minutes of game time, it became apparent that a transfer or loan was imminent for the once great prospect, with clubs such as AC Milan being heavily linked during last summer.
Unfortunately for Pepe, his extortionate price tag meant that any possibility of a transfer deal was off the cards eventually leading to a loan move to OCG Nice alongside other premier league stars such as Arsenal legend Aaron Ramsey of Rangers, Kasper Schmeichel of Leicester and Ross Barkley of Chelsea respectively . Many Arsenal fans tipped for a return of form from Pepe by going back to Ligue One due to his hot potential originating at Lille during his breakout season, however this has not been the case.
Although impressing early on during his return to France, disappointing performances before the International World Cup break for the once dominant Ligue One star has left Pepe with only 4 goals in fourteen appearances for the Eaglets, with now ex-manager Lucien Favre highlighting his disappointment in Pepe’s contribution to the team as a whole and ease of losing the ball to opposition stating “He hasn’t played for a long time in England. He has done the pre-season with Arsenal but he hasn’t played any matches, There aren’t any exceptions. If one or two players don’t do the work, the whole team is in trouble. Everyone has to do it at the same time, everyone has to defend to recover the ball.” – via Foot Mercato.
Despite these critical comments, Pepe has begun to found form collaborating with his teammates on and off the ball to produce a currently mid-table season with this form supposedly looking to grow coming into the later winter months. As any Arsenal fan will notably tell you, the French-born winger does not lack the capabilities to excite or create a outstanding performance when at his peak, with technical comparisons at one point to football legends such Arjen Robben due to his tendency to cut onto his left foot and produce an inside curling screamer.
Sadly for Pepe however, these improving performances do not match the current footballing ability available at Arsenal as they look to become regulars once again with Champions League football, leaving much assured doubt over Pepe’s role come the end of the season. Moreover, any interest from other premier league sides or title challenging teams across Europe now overlook Pepe due to his sub-par performances whether that be in England or France.
Alongside this, Nice’s contract with Pepe’s leaves unincluded an option-to-buy for the 27 year old meaning Edu’s hopes of only a small loss of investment becoming less and less likely as his transfer value sits at 13.5-15 million. (CIES, 2023). Not only does this mean a loss of 50-60 million for the North London club it is also means an expected return for Pepe to the Emirates come the summer. With only 12 months left and minimal chance of renewal, clubs are less likely to offer money for a bench-warmer soon out of contract.
Hopefully for Arteta’s new and improved Arsenal Pepe can find success within an already collected Arsenal squad, as another natural left footed winger would definitely add to the current depth available. However after his lack of motivation and current underachieving stint in France this becomes more dubious.
Unlike with previous seasons Arsenal now posses a stronger bolster of attacking wing talents as well as attacking midfielders available to fill in for European clashes or domestic cup games during another crucial title-winning push expected in 23/24 season. This means that chances of Pepe ever playing in an arsenal shirt again become more improbable. With his performances not improving and age not getting any younger it might be time for Nicolas Pepe to seek a new challenge in Europe, Asia or North America.
From the perspective of the Arsenals transfer board and Gooners alike it has taught an important lesson to buy into the quality of a player rather than the hype surrounding them after a solid run of consecutive performances. This currently being witnessed at other premier league clubs such as Manchester United and Chelsea who are also experiencing disappointing signings. With the signing of Mudryk looking imminent, fans should remain hopeful and keep their fingers crossed that Arsenal does not experience a repeat of Nicolas Pepe.