TV pundit Charlie Nicholas was pretty blunt in his assessment of Nicolas Pepe’s performance against Watford last weekend. The ex-Gunner believes the Ivorian should have been the first player that Unai Emery substituted in the second half:
“Nicolas Pepe was dreadful against Watford. How Emery took Mesut Ozil and Dani Ceballos off ahead of him [Pepe] was beyond me.”
It was certainly a difficult afternoon for the 23-year-old, he had one shot on goal and lost the ball ten times in 90 minutes. It has to be noted, however, that he is still adapting to the Premier League.
The pace of the game is not something Pepe will be used to, and the pressure that Watford exerted on Arsenal in the second half is not exactly a common occurence.
There are signs he is getting nearer the performance levels he was reaching during his time in Ligue One. For example, his dribbling stats are comparable. In his first five matches for the Gunners, he has averaged 8.65 dribbles per 90 minutes.
For Lille last campaign, that figure was 7.71. However, even though Pepe is attempting a similar number of runs on the ball, his success rate is down. It was 48% for the Ligue One side but it is only 37% so far in the Premier League.
In terms of being involved in the penalty box, it is a similar story. He averages 2.23 touches inside the area this season, compared to 2.97 last campaign. What that suggests is that he isn’t being used in the same way by Unai Emery as he was at Lille.
Pepe is getting into shooting positions but his accuracy is down significantly. He averaged 2.97 shots per game in France with an accuracy of 54%. For Arsenal at the moment, he averages 2.72 shots with an accuracy of 36%. However, if you take xG into account (it’s nearly half what it was in France) it suggests he is taking on shots which are harder to score from.
At the moment, he is clearly not being utilised in the right way. His crossing stats suggest he has played more as a winger than an inside forward, having delivered 12 crosses already this season. For Lille, he delivered 61 in 41 matches last campaign.
It does take time for a player to get used to a new club and a new manager, but still, zero goals and one assist in five matches is not a great return for a £72m record signing and he will need to improve over the coming months.