Football Features

Nicolas Pepe: How record signing will fit into Arsenal’s attack

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 16:30, 1 August 2019

It’s official: Arsenal have signed Nicolas Pepe from Lille.

The Ivorian has been linked with basically everyone around Europe all summer but after all the noise he is heading to north London.

The huge outlay the Gunners are reported to have paid for the Ivorian is nearly double Arsenal’s rumoured £40m summer transfer budget.

For Unai Emery to sanction such a bold move when his squad needs fresh blood in several other positions speaks volumes about how talented Pepe is and exactly what he brings to the squad.

But how could Arsenal line up with their new winger? What different variations can they now deploy to help launch their assault on the Europa League and a top-four finish in the Premier League? We’ve had a look and come up with three potential options.

All Out Attack

Signing Pepe when the club already has Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the books is a massive commitment to attacking football. Pepe does offer something different to Arsenal’s star strikers, but his goalscoring ability means that any line up to feature all three men would be dizzyingly offensive.

Obviously Bernd Leno would start in goal, having taken the no. 1 shirt over the summer and proven himself to possess Premier League quality last season. In defence, Héctor Bellerin will return to the right-back slot when fit (until he is, Ainsley Maitland-Niles is an able deputy).

Calum Chambers has been the linchpin of Arsenal’s defence in pre-season alongside Sokratis and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t continue. And then of course freight train full-back Sead Kolasinac will take a break from his career as Daredevil fighting off muggers to play left-back.

At the base of midfield we have Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira holding. Xhaka holds position, spraying the ball around with lethal accuracy. Torreira then provides the dynamism, roaming all over the pitch tackling everything that moves. Ahead of them it will be new loan star Dani Ceballos. The midfielder could drop back and form a three in possession but will have the potential to push forward and impact the final third with his dribbling, passing and goalscoring.

Up-top it’s Lacazette. The Frenchman is the most rounded striker in the Premier League will run the show in attack, leading Arsenal’s press, linking between team-mates and scoring killer goals. Aubameyang will play from the left, cutting infield to let Kolasinac overlap and provide width whilst he penetrates and scores goals galore.

On the right is Pepe. The new signing and star of the show. With his dribbling ability (102 completed dribbles in 2018/19) he will instantly become a magnet for the ball. Arsenal’s inability to carry the ball has so often been their undoing when it comes to facing elite sides and also the stubborn defensive units that sit in and spoil.

Pepe’s sorcery will add a deadly element to the Gunners attack. His impressive goalscoring feats won’t hurt either. No one besides Kylian Mbappé scored more than his 22 goals in Ligue 1 last season.

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3-4-1-2

Unai Emery has experimented with 3-5-2 and its variants before, and so a 3-4-1-2 would be a superb way for Arsenal to line up if, as now, they were worried about the fitness of Lacazette. They have no genuine back-up so why not develop a system that doesn’t need one? Leno is in goal again, obviously.

This time Nacho Monreal comes in to partner Sokratis and Chambers in a back three. Having three men spread across the back-line will allow the other seven Arsenal players to focus much more on surging forward to attack.

With that in mind, Kolasinac will be unleashed on the left. Unlike in the 4-2-3-1 where the arrival of Kieran Tierney would see him benched (for his lack of defensive prowess) here in a 3-4-1-2 there would be nothing standing in his barrel-chested way. On the right Maitland-Niles could continue his transformation into a top quality wing-back.

In the middle of the park we pair Ceballos and Torreira. Both men are utterly relentless, they can run and tackle and pass like few others can. Relentless energy from both men but with Ceballos being an elite dribbler he would focus more on attack where Torreira would always have half an eye on cutting off counter-attacks with early aggressive tackles.

In attack we have Mesut Ozil as the side’s no. 10, playing at the heart of attack with all six players around him running hard and creating angles for him. The German would finally have no excuses, not that he’d need them in a system like this. Up-front is speed demon Aubameyang and man of the moment Pepe. Both speed demons would lead the line, making criss-crossing runs into the channels to be available as attacking weapons for Ozil.

Under 25s Only

Thanks to Arsene Wenger, Arsenal have developed a mighty reputation as a nurturer of young talent. This squad is another example of that as it is loaded with quality young players. So here’s an XI of youngsters that doesn’t even contain Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith-Rowe, both of whom could well head out on loan.

Matt Macey goes in goal. The giant Englishman is a product of Arsenal’s youth academy and, at just 24 would thrive in his chance in the first game. The centre of defence sees Chambers (still only 24) anchor things next to last season’s young revelation Konstantinos Mavropanos. The pair could form an incredibly solid pairing and the return of Rob Holding would give them options.

Out wide Maitland-Niles would stay as right-back as he’s only 21. On the left we have 19-year-old Dominic Thompson. The teenager is a decent prospect with potential to become excellent. It’s worth pointing out that, if he were to sign, 22-year-old Tierney would be ideal for this XI at left-back.

In midfield 23-year-old Torreira is young enough to retain his place as the “muscle” and next to him would go the wonder-haired Matteo Guendouzi who is just 20. The Frenchman’s delightful and surprising rise to prominence last season would be built on here. Again Ceballos (just 24) is the no. 10, adding goals, dribbling and dynamism.

Up-front is 20-year-old Eddie Nketiah. The youngster is so promising as a striker and putting him at the head of this XI would provide him with so many chances to score and expand on his profile. Especially because out wide we would have the 24-year-old Pepe paired with the 23-year-old Alex Iwobi.

The Nigerian is Arsenal’s best dribbler (46 dribbles completed in 2018/19) and the Ivorian is, as previously stated, a wizard with the ball at his feet. Pairing them in the same XI would make Arsenal so very difficult to defend against because they could space the pitch out and then dice up full-backs 1v1.

Defending wingers could help opponents but that’s when Arsenal’s overlapping full-backs would come into play. Essentially this system would allow Emery to stick to his principles whilst also offering thrill-a-minute football with young talent.