We need to talk about Nicolas Pépé. The conversation has been a long time coming, and we’ve already had bits and pieces of it around TSF. I’m sure some of you have already had it among yourselves. But it needs to be said, clearly, once and for all.
His signing has been an absolute, unmitigated disaster for Arsenal.
His transfer record shattering £72M acquisition came on the back of a 22 goal, 12 assist performance in 2018-19 for Lille, but he hasn’t come close to those numbers in North London. In 54 Arsenal appearances, he’s managed just 11 goals and 12 assists.
To be fair, that has come as the overall offensive production at Arsenal has declined. And he’s been near the top of the roster in chances created despite struggling to secure a regular place in the lineup. Before the November international break, he voiced his frustration about playing from the bench.
The statistics don’t really tell the full tale. It doesn’t really matter whether he is doing decently well on a sinking ship or straight up under-performing. A club-record signing needs to be a game-changer. They need to be influential nearly every time they step on the pitch. They need to play so well that there isn’t any question whether they should be starting. They need to be a star.
Nicolas Pépé has been nowhere near a star at Arsenal.
Think about who the best, most important players at the club have been in the past year and a half. How many names do you rattle off before you get to Pépé? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Bukayo Saka, Gabriel, Kieran Tierney, and Bernd Leno have all clearly been better. Then you have a group of guys that includes Dani Ceballos, Gabriel Martinelli, Hector Bellerin (this season), and maybe a few others. That’s probably where he belongs. It’s not bad company per se, but Arsenal need Pépé to do better than that.
Let’s be clear: this is an evaluation of Nicolas Pépé’s purchase as a piece of business for Arsenal Football Club and not an evaluation of him as a player. Evaluating Pépé as a player, i.e. his abilities on the pitch and his place in the squad, is an exercise separate from any discussion of price. He’s a fine player who has shown flashes of absolute brilliance, which is part of what makes him so frustrating. He’s got the potential to be great, but he can’t seem to put the pieces together and play consistently. Even if he doesn’t get to great, he’s still got the tools to be a useful part of the setup.
But the deal itself — production for the price — has been a train wreck. It was such a bad piece of business (with whispers of irregularities) that it got Raul Sanllehi fired. Arsenal don’t have the money to “miss” on transfers, especially not club record ones. And right now, Nicolas Pépé looks like a gigantic miss. If he continues to under-perform and doesn’t get to consistently being one of Arsenal’s best players on the pitch, his purchase will have set the club back at least two or three years in terms of roster development and management.
There’s still time for Pépé to come good. That clock is rapidly ticking down, accelerated by his inexcusable red card against Leeds United. The Nicolas Pépé at Arsenal story could still have a happy ending, but right now, he’s the worst signing in Arsenal history.