Nicolas Pepe: Is unrelenting criticism of Arsenal winger too harsh?

Nicolas Pepe Arsenal 2019-20
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The Gunners’ record signing has been criticised by media and supporters alike, but it's too early to dismiss the wideman

Seven Premier League gameweeks in and the discontent among the Arsenal faithful seems to be increasing.

Unai Emery’s selection and substitutions are constantly questioned, performances remain largely dire, individual mistakes persist and there’s an underperforming record signing on the books in Nicolas Pepe.

The wideman arrived in the summer from LOSC Lille to much fanfare, but hasn’t set the Emirates Stadium alight in the opening weeks of the season. If anything, his performances have declined in recent games as the honeymoon period wears off with consistent performances now expected, if not demanded, by all.

With only one goal so far, a penalty in a 3-2 win against Aston Villa at home, and one assist which came in the North London derby against Tottenham Hotspur, Pepe has contributed to just two goals from the Gunners’ 12 so far.

The goalscoring burden is yet again being carried by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who’s scored seven times, consequently making the Ivory Coast winger’s lack of contribution noticeable.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Arsenal 2019-20

Alexander Lacazette’s niggling injury, which has limited the Frenchman to just two starts this term, has reduced Emery’s options up front, meaning the former Lille attacker’s probably had to feature more than the Spanish trainer would have liked. Irrespective of his lack of games, the Frenchman remains Arsenal’s second top scorer in the league, a fact that amplifies an over-reliance on his and Aubameyang’s goals.

Barring the need to get much needed bodies and quality in wide areas, Pepe’s purchase was made to lessen the burden of goalscoring on Emery’s potent pair, who accounted for 48 percent of their 73 league goals last term. However, the North London club’s record signing – who scored 22 times and assisted 11 last season – has hitherto failed to deliver.

While it’s still too early to dismiss the Ivorian so quickly into his time at the club, he has to improve in his all-round play and faulty end product.

On a number of occasions, the wideman has looked off the pace physically, tends to hold on to possession for too long and often takes the wrong option when the ball is released. Furthermore, his shooting has left a lot to be desired and critics are starting to notice these flaws in his game.

Nicolas Pepe Arsenal 2019-20

“His body language isn’t great, and we make excuses for players a lot, like it takes time to settle into a club, but Pepe for the money they’ve paid needs to do a lot more,” Roy Keane said after Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.

"His poor work rate, his lack of quality and end product, and again his body language, he doesn’t seem up for the fight."

Expectedly, Emery has leapt to his star player’s defence believing the player will be devastating once he gets to grips with the English game.

"He needs to play, get confidence and get to know the other players. Every player needs time when they arrive here. Young players or players as important as Pepe,” Emery said before Thursday night’s 4-0 Europa League win over Standard Liege.

“The Premier League is a very strong competition with physicality and intensity. You need to think quickly, to move the ball quickly or keep the ball with strong intensity around you.

Nicolas Pepe Unai Emery Arsenal PS

“We are in that process, likewise Pepe. A lot of players when they come here [move to England], the first month, the first year it was not easy for them," he added, "but I am going to work with him. Pepe is an amazing player, I am sure he is going to have a big career."

It's a massive show of confidence by Emery to Pepe who needs an arm around his shoulder after a difficult start in the English game, but how much longer before the Spaniard’s patience wears thin?

Bournemouth visit the Emirates on Sunday afternoon, a game Pepe ought to feature in having been given a breather on Thursday night. The Gunners have dominated this fixture, especially in London, and are favourites heading into the ninth league meeting between the sides since the Cherries gained promotion.

It remains to be seen if Pepe will suddenly turn it on against Eddie Howe’s troops on home turf, but continued struggles will bring about even more criticism, which hinders his settling down process.

That’s something Arsenal’s record signing cannot afford to happen.