Nicolas Pepe deserves to start for Arsenal against Manchester United

It is probably fair to say that to date Nicolas Pepe has failed to honor the £ 72million Arsenal agreed to pay Lille for his services in the summer of 2019.

Unai Emery was the boss when the Ivorian was signed and there has been a lot of emphasis that the Spaniard would have preferred to see his international teammate Wilfried Zaha arrive at the Emirates instead, only to be canceled by the Arsenal hierarchy.

Pepe, 25, has since made 66 appearances for the North Londoners, scoring 14 times and providing 13 assists – that’s 27 direct contributions to goals, which is certainly respectable.

With the club’s record-breaking transfer fees hanging over his head, there will always be pressure on Pepe to deliver consistently. But considering he’s only started in 25% of the club’s top-level appearances this season, you can maybe see why he’s struggled to find any rhythm.

Add to that, when he got the chance to start in some cup competitions, he most often played alongside what you now consider Mikel Arteta’s second string side. For this reason, not all of the criticisms he has received recently have been necessarily correct.

After an impressive performance against Southampton on Tuesday, however, you can certainly say that Pepe deserves to keep his place in the starting XI for Manchester United’s visit on Saturday – especially if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is still unavailable.

The Arsenal captain revealed that his The recent absence was due to her mother’s poor health and speaking on Thursday Mikel Arteta declined to set a date for her return to the side.

In Arsenal’s victory at St. Mary’s, Pepe scored the equalizer goal at a crucial moment, shortly after Stuart Armstrong put the hosts in the lead and continued to deliver one of his top performances. most impressive in club colors to date.

Historically, the former Lille player has played on the right wing for Mikel Arteta’s side, but given that Bukayo Saka has made that position his own in recent times – scoring four goals and providing two assists in his last six appearances. in the Premier League, Pepe was invited to start. on the left side.

Why was Nicolas Pepe more effective from the left?

Nicolas Pepe proved Mikel Arteta he had something to offer the Gunners in attack
Nicolas Pepe proved Mikel Arteta that he had something to offer the Gunners in attack | Marc Atkins / Getty Images

Against Southampton, the striker had 58 touches, only Cédric (81) had more – pointing out that from the left he was able to get much more involved in Arsenal’s attack. Throughout his career he has been a player who enjoys receiving the ball wide and driving down the field to the penalty spot, but playing on the left seems to give him the confidence to go on the outside, using his pace to beat. people as an alternative – making it a lot less predictable.

After scoring his midweek goal in eight minutes, Pepe’s confidence, which seems to have eluded him in recent months, visibly flowed through his body. He had the kind of boast and belief in his game that Arsenal fans hadn’t seen before.

Clearly a trusted player who has struggled with the lack of starting opportunities offered to him in recent months, dropping him, especially if Aubameyang remains unavailable, could be counterproductive. Questions have been asked in the past about his willingness to help defensively, but aside from being caught on his heels ahead of the Southampton opener, he delivered an almost perfect display.

Arsenal face Manchester United this weekend at Emirates Stadium - The Gunners won at Old Trafford earlier this season
Arsenal take on Manchester United this weekend at Emirates Stadium – The Gunners won at Old Trafford earlier this season | Visionhaus / Getty Images

Time and time again the Arsenal boss has spoken about the need to develop a winning culture at Emirates Stadium and after playing so well if Pepe were to be abandoned he would send the right message to the rest of his players striving to succeed. in a regular place?

For the aforementioned reasons, he deserves a starting place in Saturday’s big Premier League clash with old nemesis Manchester United.