Nicolas Pépé done. Positive fanbase next. Blimey!
Señor Unai Emery is about to go into his second campaign as Arsenal manager and expectations will be much higher.
A promising early season 22-match unbeaten run had fans frothing at the mouth but ended up resulting in the disappointment of missing out on both top-four and a Europa League final loss against Chelsea.
Arsenal followed that up with what seemed to be a characteristically slow transfer window and a reported measly £45m transfer budget that was reminiscent of summer transfer windows of old – waiting until the last knockings and hoping to pick up some morsel of a decent player in the last few days leading upto deadline day.
CHANGE, beautiful change
However, the club has certainly defied expectations by sealing a number of impressive transfers, including Saint-Etiene’s 17-year-old French centre-back prospect William Saliba and Real Madrid’s industrious midfielder Dani Ceballos on loan.
I’ll also mention that we beat Spurs to both of these signings, no real reason to mention that, just fancied it.
On Sunday, reports from the likes of BBC’s David Ornstein and Sky Italy’s Di Marzio sent us wild with news that we’d agreed a price of £72m with Lille for their winger Nicolas Pépé, who shone in Ligue 1 last season and reportedly was wanted by the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Napoli.
What does Pépé give us?
In Ligue 1, Nicolas Pépé was second for goals (22), second for assists (11), third for completed dribbles (103) and second for chances created from open play (61) – are Arsenal really getting a complete winger? The stats would suggest so.
The Ivorian fills a clear need in the Arsenal squad, a player who’s pace, dribbling and ability to carry the ball over large distances adds a dynamic to our attack that we greatly missed last season.
Arsenal’s highest for most dribbles per 90 last season in the Premier League was Alex Iwobi and Alexandre Lacazette with 1.3 each – Nicolas Pépé has over double that with 2.7 per 90.
Reports also suggest that Arsenal’s analytics team believe that part of our poor away form is down to lack of pace and skill in attack and if that is the case, they’ve bought a player that exudes these qualities completely.
In the purest form of being a football fan, it’s also just exciting to imagine a front-three of Pierre-Emeric Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pépé in front of Mesut Özil – that’s a good lookin’ Arse.
Adding width will give us balance
One of the biggest positives is that this signing makes me believe that Emery will now commit to wider formations. Towards the end of last season, it did feel a lot like Emery was sacrificing what he constantly referred to as our “process” for short-term results in an attempt to secure Champions League qualification and it really bit us.
Going back to a 4-2-3-1 will hopefully give the team a much more balanced basis to grow from and find a fluency as a collective that will help us move forward – last season our highest scoring winger in the Premier League was Mkhitaryan with just six goals… let’s just say we should expect that to improve next season now that we’ve added Pépé to our ranks.
If we do get Celtic’s left-back Kieran Tierney over the line this could be the best transfer window for Arsenal in recent memory, and if we get a centre-back to go with him it could be our best transfer window ever (on paper).
It really reminds me of the summer Manchester City had after Pep’s first season, when they addressed all of their issues and brought in the players Pep needed to truly implement his style – is this the same case with Emery? It’ll be up to him to prove it and it would be hard to argue that he hasn’t been given the ammunition.
We’ve spent three years outside the Champions League that so many of us simply took for granted – after this season we could hopefully be saying goodbye to Thursday/Sunday game weeks, away days in Ukraine and playing finals that are being held in countries that excludes one of our players for no reason other than his nationality.
After this season I never want to hear the Europa League theme linked to Arsenal ever again and we can only hope that what looks to be a stunning transfer window that has been orchestrated by Raul Sanllehi will give Emery the platform he needs to turn us into a top-four club once again and build from there.
The positivity seems to be back amongst the fanbase and it’ll be up to Emery and the players to prove they’re up for the task.
Up The Arsenal and roll on Newcastle away!