Nicolas Pepe’s Arsenal struggles after £72m move and Liverpool’s “pure lies” declaration

While it wasn’t quite the ‘parties in the street when Mesut Ozil signed’ level of excitement, every member of the Arsenal faithful could barely believe their luck when they purchased Nicolas Pepe in August 2019.

The Ivorian international was very much the ‘it-boy’ of European football, rumoured to be sought after by the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Liverpool (more on that shortly).

Yet in the final month of that summer transfer window, it was the Gunners who secured his signature.

How many opponents Arsenal truly had in the race for Pepe’s signature is unclear, but what is public record is Liverpool’s emphatic denial that they were ever even interested in the former Lille star.

Wanting to distance themselves from the reports so much, Liverpool even took the unusual step of reposting an article from the Liverpool ECHO on their own website that read: “The transfer speculation suggesting Liverpool are in concrete talks with Lille over the transfer of Nicolas Pepe is “pure lies”.

“Liverpool have made it very clear that they will not be taking any interest in Pepe and feel that they are being used to escalate interest in the striker.”

Numbers dominated the discourse surrounding Pepe’s arrival at the Emirates. The overjoyed Arsenal fans chose to focus on the 22 goals and 11 assists the wide-forward registered in his final season with Lille in Ligue 1, while the club’s detractors raised alarms over the jaw-dropping £72million transfer fee.

Arsenal were very excited to land Nicolas Pepe in 2019
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Stuart MacFarlane/Getty Images)

HAVE YOUR SAY!Why has Nicolas Pepe underwhelmed at Arsenal? Comment below

During the opening exchanges of his Arsenal career, Pepe showed flashes of the kind of skilful wizardry that made him such a nightmare for defenders back in France – but that was not paired with any kind of end product.

It took until late September for Pepe to register his first goal, and even that came from the penalty spot. 2-0 down at home to Aston Villa, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang appeared to hand Pepe the ball out of pity more than anything else before he stepped up from 12 yards.

Thankfully – he scored. The time to kick on and use the momentum from this first effort was here, Arsenal fans were ready to really witness what their club record signing could do.

In the end, it proved to be a false dawn, as it has so many times over the course of Pepe’s Gunners career. His debut campaign was harmed by the Covid-19 enforced suspension of the league, but it would be disingenuous to claim the 27-year-old was in any kind of form beforehand.

His first season at Arsenal ended with a feeble five goals in 31 Premier League appearances, but it was written off as nothing more than slow start. Very little to be concerned about, many players take time to adapt to the rigours of English football.

Season two marked his first full campaign under the guidance of Mikel Arteta after he had originally been signed by the Spaniard’s predecessor Unai Emery. It has since emerged that Emery was reluctant to even sign Pepe and actually preferred Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha.

Nicolas Pepe felt the wrath of his manager after this red card against Leeds

A delightfully taken goal early on in the campaign against Sheffield United sparked excitement that this season was to be the one where Pepe truly introduced himself to the Premier League.

It would reach January 26 of the following year before Pepe scored another goal from open play. Between the two strikes, he got another from the penalty spot against Everton and also received his first red card for a headbutt on former Leeds star Ezgjan Alioski.

The dismissal marked a new low in Pepe’s Gunners stint. Arteta was seething during his post-match interview as he simply described the conduct of his player as “unacceptable.”

Three goals in one month upon his return from suspension yet again led to some claims that Pepe had finally found his feet, but it was another false start. Of his 10 Premier League goals during his second season, five came in the final four games of the campaign when the pressure was well and truly off – all coming against bottom-half opposition.

The 2021/22 campaign just gone has undoubtedly been the worst of Pepe’s entire senior career, with first-team minutes incredibly hard to come by. He made the fewest appearances of any of his three seasons at Arsenal, with just 20.

That saw a return of one solitary goal, though it looked for all the world like it was going to be a defining one in the race for top four. Pepe did not let the birth of his child just hours before kick-off prevent him from popping up with the equaliser against Wolves in a dramatic 2-1 home win.

Last season also threw up arguably the most damning stat of Pepe’s entirely underwhelming Arsenal career. Over the course of the entire campaign, he completed 90 minutes on just five occasions.

Nicolas Pepe’s future at Arsenal is uncertain despite costing the club a record £72m in 2019
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Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

From mid-October, Pepe failed to last the full 90 on any single occasion. Few could have predicted three years ago that a player who cost Arsenal so much would have been deemed so useless to them so soon.

Having been deemed surplus to requirements by Arteta some time ago, Pepe appears to be angling for a move away and a chance to end his Arsenal nightmare.

The winger changed his agent just before the season’s close, potentially giving his new representatives time to sound out offers from elsewhere and weigh up what his next move might be.

As for Arsenal- it is clear they will be fine without Pepe, but even the most optimistic Gunners fan will be resigned to the fact they’ll be making quite the loss on the expensive Ivorian who failed to make the grade.

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