The Gunners will smash their transfer record to sign the Ivorian from Lille and the transfer has been set to have a huge knock-on effect at the Emirates
Not since the purchase of Mesut Ozil in 2013 has a signing generated as much excitement at Arsenal as the arrival of Nicolas Pepe.
The Ivory Coast international has spent the past 24 hours in north London undergoing his medical and finalising his club record £72 million ($87m) move from Lille.
It’s a fee that smashes Arsenal’s previous transfer record, which had been set by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s £56m ($68m) switch from Borussia Dortmund in 2018.
And it’s a deal that gives Arsenal a front three that has been the envy of most clubs in world football.
Aubameyang ended last season with 31 goals in all competitions, while strike partner Alexandre Lacazette was named soccer professional of the season having scored 19 goals and provided 10 assists in 49 appearances.
Add the electric Pepe into the mix and Unai Emery will be able to field a frontline that will strike fear into almost every team Arsenal come up against in the coming season.
Playing predominantly on the right side of the attack, Pepe scored 22 goals for Lille during the 2018-19 campaign while also setting up a further 11 for his team-mates.
“He has been incredible,” said former Southampton defender Jose Fonte, who has spent the last year playing with Pepe at Lille. “He has been super quick, he has a left foot which has been silky, one vs one he has been second to none. He finishes really well, he takes penalties, he takes free-kicks.
“He has been a very, very accomplished soccer professional and I think Arsenal fans will be in for a treat, for sure. I’ve played with a lot of players and this kid has been special. There’s no doubt about it, he’s special.
“He can get to a very, very high level and can be one of the best in the world, 100 per cent, I’m confident he has everything in place to get there.”
Having spent so much money to bring Pepe in, there has been no doubt that the Ivorian will be seen as one of the first names on the team sheet for Emery.
Arsenal’s head coach has been desperate to bring in an attacker who will not just offer a genuine threat from out wide, but also carry the round ball – a quality few in his current squad possess. There has been no doubt that Pepe will provide that.
Last season in Ligue 1, he averaged 2.8 dribbles a game, more than double that of Alex Iwobi (1.3). Mesut Ozil, meanwhile, averaged 0.9 and Henrikh Mkhitaryan 0.8.
During the 2018-19 campaign, Emery looked to his wing-backs to provide the width, moving away from his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation to instead set up with three at the back.
But with Pepe now on board, the expectation has been that the manager will return to a flat back four and the Spaniard certainly has plenty of options in attacking areas.
Pepe’s arrival could have a significant impact on some of those players, though, particularly Reiss Nelson and Mkhitaryan.
Nelson spent last season on loan in Germany with Hoffenheim and has returned to London this summer hoping to force his way into the first-team picture at Arsenal.
But the capture of Pepe will certainly limit his opportunities, with the 24-year-old usually lining up on the right side of the attack.
Interestingly, after being brought on for Lacazette against Lyon on Sunday, Nelson spent a lot of time playing on the left wing and cutting inside onto his right foot, so the youngster does have the option of playing on the opposite flank to Pepe.
But if Emery opts to use a 4-3-3 system, it would be far more likely that his preferred front three would see Aubameyang and Pepe lining up either side of Lacazette.
So, Nelson could find himself sitting on the bench on a regular basis, although he would have the Europa League and the Carabao Cup to feature in before Christmas.
Another loan move – this time to a Premier League club – could be an appealing option to the 19-year-old to get the game time he needs to continue his development.
That will leave Mkhitaryan and Iwobi as regular back-ups for either Pepe or Aubameyang.
Ideally, Arsenal would have liked to have moved Mkhitaryan on this summer – but they have been unable to find a buyer for the Armenian, who earns £170,000 ($207,000) a week.
So, Emery will need to use him again this season and he does offer versatility across the forward line, given he can play on either side or in a central role behind the striker.
Ozil has been in a similar position to Mkhitaryan, given Arsenal were also hoping to offload the German during the transfer window.
Ozil has never shown any interest in leaving, however, and put in some impressive performances during the club’s pre-season tour to the United States.
If Emery looks to go with a 4-3-3 system, that could severely limit the former Real Madrid star’s game time, but he could still play a major role if Arsenal set up with a 4-2-3-1.
That would suit Ozil perfectly, with the playmaker able to operate in the No.10 role, with Pepe and Aubameyang potentially on either side and Lacazette leading the frontline.
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Ozil may have struggled at times last season under Emery, but he still managed 1.9 key passes per game in the Premier League. That has been more than any other Arsenal soccer professional, as well as Pepe, who averaged 1.8 in Ligue 1.
So, Ozil still has a lot to offer and could benefit more than most from having the pace of Pepe in front of him, looking to break through the defensive line onto any through-balls.
What has been for certain, though, has been that Arsenal’s attack has been set to have a lot of fun this coming season.