Nicolas Pepe is “out of his depth” and enduring a “nightmare” at Arsenal, says Paul Merson, with the pressure of a £72 million ($96m) price tag considered to be weighing heavy on a club-record signing.
The Gunners dug deep to prise an exciting Ivorian forward away from Lille in the summer of 2019.
Pepe was believed to boast the attacking verve that would allow him to slot seamlessly into a ball-playing Arsenal side that have long been more forward-thinking than defensive minded.
The 25-year-old has, however, struggled to live up to expectations in north London, with 12 goals and as many assists recorded through 56 appearances.
He did offer signs of encouragement in a Europa League outing against Molde on Thursday, but that showing came on the back of a reckless red card at Leeds which saw more questions asked of his value.
Merson is among those placing Pepe into the expensive flop category, with the former Gunners playmaker seeing Mikel Arteta’s inconsistent side being out-of-sorts as a collective.
He told the Daily Star: “Nicolas Pepe looks out of his depth and he’s going to have to do it against much better teams than Molde to change my opinion.
“I can understand how he got sent off in the Leeds game. He’s been having a nightmare ever since he joined Arsenal and one Europa League goal in Norway won’t change that.
“He let his frustration get the better of him against Leeds and did something silly with the headbutt, because things haven’t been going well for him at Arsenal for months.
“He came in for £70-odd million. If they’d bought him for £20m nobody would be moaning. But the fee brings pressure, and he’s not been able to handle it.
“I watch him play and I don’t know what he brings to the table. But it’s not his fault Arsenal are struggling.
“I don’t think Mikel Arteta knows his best team and he’s been there a long time now. He keeps changing it too much. It’s worrying.
“He plays Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up front and he brings absolutely nothing to the party. Again.
“If you’re playing Arsenal right now, you’re disappointed if you don’t get something. Leeds looked a better side to me in that game.
“Arteta is safe as houses. He’s going to get time. But he needs to find his best team and stick with it, because it’s not working right now.”
Pepe will be denied the chance to play his way back into form when Arsenal return to Premier League action on Sunday, as he serves a suspension, but Arteta’s side can start to build momentum heading towards the hectic festive period when they play host to Wolves.