So which Nicolas Pepe is the real $93 million man? Is he the player who, for the first 45 minutes, managed to pick out the first man, the side-netting or the Clock End with the numerous pinpoint crosses Dundalk allowed him to deliver?

Or is the real Pepe still waiting to burst out in more than flashes, the likes of which invariably bring games their crowning moments? After 45 utterly ordinary minutes Pepe ended any hopes the Irish visitors might have had of mounting a comeback, a left-footed drag back and a swing of his right boot bringing Arsenal their third goal.

That brought Pepe’s goal total to double figures since his move from Lille in the summer of 2019, a transfer that was supposed to give Arsenal an attack that might compare favorably to Liverpool’s thrilling attacking trident. The plan was certainly not for their most expensive player ever to be the star attraction for the Gunners’ second tier games — his inclusion against Dundalk seems to suggest that Mikel Arteta will likely favor Willian when his side face Manchester United on Sunday.

“He’s so willing to do well and show everybody, first of all his teammates, myself and the fans, that he is a player that can make a difference every week.” Arteta said. “Obviously he has not been first choice in a lot of the games at the moment but to be fair he has played quite a lot of moments, some better than others.”

“It’s about finding the consistency, not through the games but during the game as well to be more insistive [sic] and be able to do the right things in many, many occasions when he has to do the right things on the pitch,” Arteta added.

“It’s nothing to do with his attitude. He’s a player that takes risks and is a very creative player and that’s the most difficult thing in football when they all know what you can do, how much they want to prevent space, the overloads they generate to defend you as well.

“Creating situations from them is complicated but sometimes it’s the simple things – the deliveries, the amount of situations that he’s able to create or attract and then make the right decision to keep that phase of play evolving, the finishing, the position inside the box – that he has to be more consistent at. We will be doing that much more efficiently.”

Even from the day he arrived Pepe was a curious club record signing. While the previous man to wear the mantle of Arsenal’s most expensive player, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, was a ready-made goal getter with a proven track record. Pepe had enjoyed an explosive season at Lille but arrived in north London with senior figures at his new club eager to cool expectations around their new signing.

It would not be until the latter parts of the 2019-20 season and in particular this campaign when Arsenal would see the best of Pepe. It still feels a way off, every step forward coming with another back. This is still a player who Arteta felt compelled to give one-on-one training to in February to try to force him to develop greater attacking variety and a usable right foot.

His goal would suggest that some progress has been made but the same tendency to meander inwards onto his left and over or under-hit shots, passes and crosses plagued him against Dundalk. It says something quite worrying about Pepe that the Irish side seemed more than happy to let him have the ball because they knew what he would do with it.

“He has been [attacking with his right foot] recently a little bit more, going on the outside. It’s something he can do,” Arteta added. “It’s just about when he attracts people and frees someone else, the last pass, the last delivery, which foot he needs to attack to the defender sometimes to make things different for him

“His starting position sometimes is not right. He’s trying really hard. He’s a player that loves to play the game and we need to give him more help to try to be more successful.”

Arteta is certainly the man to bring the best out of wingers and during his time at Manchester City both Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane credited their assistant manager with their significant improvements. But equally his Arsenal side is not one that is built for mavericks such as Pepe.

That is something Willian alluded to earlier this week, telling Brazilian publication Globo Esporte that Arteta wants his wingers to “respect the position”, to play a role that can sometimes stifle their creativity.

With Lille and Arsenal, Pepe has thrived in broken spaces when games are at their most end-to-end has been when this forward has been at his most electric and incisive. He is not the player to apply the chokehold to an opponent or wear them down with consistent pressure, even if he is one who at any time might just make a fool of his doubters with a quick drag back and a drive off either foot.

What Arteta must ask himself is whether those brief moments are worth all the frustration that can come with Pepe.


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