By Adrian Clarke
Nicolas Pepe has the tools to help make Arsenal a formidable attacking force, both home and away, in 2019/20.
The skilful winger possesses a gilded left foot, but the 24-year-old’s standout quality is the incredible acceleration he generates over the first five to 10 yards.
Either from a standing start or when running onto a loose ball, the Ivory Coast international has a speedy gear change that can provide Arsenal with a fresh dimension in wide areas.
Unai Emery’s men struggled to stretch opponents on the flanks last season, lacking a natural winger that could make penetrative runs beyond defenders on a regular basis.
With his combination of speed, trickery and technique, Pepe solves that issue.
From open play, the Gunners failed to create enough chances last term.
Arsenal were ranked seventh for key passes in open play, and remarkably 11th for the total number of shots fashioned, so it was clear that the head coach would look to find a solution.
Pepe’s inclusion in the side will almost certainly puncture more holes in opposition defences – even those that sit off and set up in a low defensive block.
Able to take the ball past his markers in tight areas (he tried 5.76 dribbles per game for Lille) and then explode beyond them with his pace, the African winger will open up precious pockets of space.
Many of his 11 Ligue 1 assists arrived off the back of those rapid bursts.
With the ball at his feet and defenders back pedalling, Pepe is superb at slipping through-balls into the box for strikers to finish.
This should be great news for Messrs Aubameyang and Lacazette.
Emery’s latest purchase is also a prolific marksman in his own right.
Driving inside from the right wing, he fired off 118 shots for Lille in 2018/19, which is more than both Aubameyang and Alex Lacazette managed in the Premier League.
Finishing just behind Kylian Mbappe in the Ligue 1 scoring charts with 22 strikes, Pepe arrives in a confident mood.
How does he score his goals? The simple answer is with his deadly left foot.
Over the course of 2018/19 he dispatched 21 of his 22 goals with his favoured foot, scoring just once with his right.
While not averse to trying his luck from distance, Pepe also scored 21 of 22 goals from inside the box too.
The caveat to that extraordinary record is that Pepe tucked home nine penalty kicks, reducing his general-play total to 13 goals.
On the plus side, Emery now has another accomplished spot-kick taker in his ranks; do not be surprised if he is handed that responsibility in the months to come.
Negatives are not easy to find with a player of Pepe’s talent.
However, Arsenal fans should be aware that he will lose possession more often than many of his teammates.
The winger’s penchant for flair and desire to try tricks and flicks inside the opposition half, does mean he gives the ball away on occasions.
In fact, only two attackers in Ligue 1 lost it more often than Pepe (644) last season, who conceded possession with 30.2 per cent of his touches.
That stat is a price worth paying though.
Arsenal's record signing is guaranteed to go past defenders and deliver end product on a frequent basis.
He prefers to start on the right wing, but you will often see Pepe driving down the centre of the pitch with the ball at his feet.
There is no question at all that his speed and decision-making on the counter-attack or from turnovers will have rival defenders quaking in their boots.
Last term there was a feeling the side was too reliant on Aubameyang and Lacazette.
They netted 35 of Arsenal’s 73 Premier League goals, with Henrik Mkhitaryan the top scoring midfielder on six.
The arrival of Pepe adds considerable weight to the team’s firepower.
His presence will also help all three star forwards receive less individual attention from opposition defenders.
If they focus their attention too closely on one player, the others will thrive.
I really can’t wait to see Arsenal unleash all three of these exciting goal-getters at once.
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