Arsenal have (reportedly) gone out and broken their transfer record, and brought in one of the most exciting young attacking talents available in Nicolas Pepe.
This was a rumor that I had trouble believing when I first saw it float across my twitter timeline.
I had bought the line that Arsenal were going to cry poor this transfer window. That they would be shopping in the bargain bin for wide players like Ryan Fraser and dreaming up crazy multiplayer swaps to get Wilfred Zaha. I expected Pepe to go to a larger club, but in the end those options never quite materialized for him and Arsenal were able to pounce.
On the pitch, Pepe is a left footed player who plays from the right as an inverted winger. This means that he likely takes the spot that was primarily occupied by Henrikh Mkhitaryan last season.
The biggest thing that he replaces is the missing “chaos” factor in attack. Arsenal have lacked a player like this since Alexis Sanchez went off into semi-retirement at Manchester United.
He is a very good dribbler, but also one who tries some pretty crazy things that won’t always come off When they do, though, they will destabilize back lines. He is also a threat to shoot from anywhere and create for his teammates.
Above is his shot chart from last season. It matches what you would expect from a player who cuts in from the right on to his left foot, with shots centered in the right half space.
Overall, 32% of his shots from open play came from within the prime shooting areas, and this rate has held at the same level, even with his overall shot volume increasing from last year.
I don’t expect him to be the focal point of the attack at Arsenal, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see his shot volume drop, but hopefully he can maintain or improve his ability to find shots in good locations.
His passing profile matches what I would expect from an inverted wide player, his passing matches pretty close to expected completion percentage and his overall completion is slightly above average.
Last season Lille were not a team that relied on crosses to create offense, playing with two inverted wingers and a counter attacking style led to a team that was 2nd fewest in Ligue 1. So unsurprisingly Pepe didn’t attempt or complete a huge number of crosses. He wasn’t bad when he did attempt them, but that isn’t a major part of his game and I don’t expect that change too much with his move to London.
His ability to provide the final ball is one of his biggest strengths. His total xG assisted ranked 1st last season in France and on a per 90 basis was 11th overall. He was 9th in shots assisted from open play among forwards and playing with elite attacking talent like Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette should only help that statistic.
His dribbling is another strength that when he completes his move should move to Arsenal that he should become the leader at. He attempted just under 5 dribbles per 90 minutes, which was 14th most in France and completed just over 50% of them. He should become the most dangerous dribbler on Arsenal as soon as he takes the field.
On defense, he wasn’t asked to do a ton last season as one of the main attacking threats. In the past he has shown that he can provide defensive contribution and we will go more into depth on that later.
Lastly, looking again at his shooting he provides 85th percentile production in both open play shots and expected goals.
Overall I am very excited about the signing of Nicolas Pepe.
Arsenal probably overpaid to make the move happen but I think that the overall value that he will add to Arsenal makes the overpay justified. Looking at his track record and comparable players a market value based on that was probably closer to 60-70 million euros and not the reported 80 million that he will end up costing Arsenal.
Considering that Arsenal were linked with Wilfred Zaha at a similar cost, I think that long term Pepe is a better fit for Arsenal.
He fills a whole from a squad building perspective as a player just entering his prime compared to the pre-prime players that Arsenal have in their academy and the current Arsenal starters who are at the tail end or already past their best years.
He doesn’t solve Arsenal’s defensive issues, but he does add missing skills that should help Arsenal have a potentially lethal attack next season. At a minimum with him in the team Arsenal should be able to produce more fun moments, and that’s nothing to turn up or noses at after some less than stellar attacking displays last season.
This post originally ran on The Short Fuse