This article is part of Football FanCast’s Expert Roundup feature, which provides three quotes from those in the know in order to illuminate fundamental strengths, weaknesses, quirks, kinks, stylistic comparisons and general observations of players, transfer targets and confirmed signings.
Nicolas Pepe arrived in London on Tuesday to complete a medical ahead of his £72m move to Arsenal.
The winger has been all over the transfer talk in the last couple of days, with the Ivorian goal scorer set to sign for a club who reportedly have a budget of just £45m. The deal will apparently be paid in instalments, but Lille will nevertheless receive a huge payment for last season’s star man.
Pepe is a right-winger who cuts inside and looks to drive towards goal, but also has the ability to create as well as finish, proven by his 22 goals and 11 assists in Ligue 1.
Arsenal have needed a winger for years, and have had to play the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alex Iwobi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out wide, who aren’t traditional wide-men whatsoever.
There always seems to be scepticism about whether a star from Ligue 1 can replicate their form in the Premier League.
But what have those in the know had to say about the inbound Arsenal signing?
Didier Drogba – Ivory Coast and Chelsea legend
For an Ivory Coast international, receiving praise from Didier Drogba is about as good as it gets.
The striker scored an impressive 300 career goals and is Ivory Coast’s all-time top goalscorer.
Despite previously holding the record for the most goals in a Ligue 1 season by an African player, Drogba seemed convinced in March that his record would be broken by the Lille winger, and he was right.
“His numbers are great and he will easily beat my record of 19 in 2003-04. He’s fast, complete and efficient.
“They need players like him in France. I’ve heard of him for some time, above all because he was called up to the Ivory Coast squad for a few years. He’s having a season at a very high level.”
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Christophe Galtier – Lille manager
There are few people in the world who will know the intricacies of Pepe’s talent like Christophe Galtier, the Lille boss who’s had the pleasure of working with the winger all season.
While he was resigned to the fact he would lose his star player when questioned, he certainly managed to get some praise in there as well.
“Nicolas Pepe will leave. Life’s like that; football’s like that today. He is a player of the highest level who will have a big decision to make on the choice of his next club. There will be a battle between the great European teams. I hope that he will take good amount of time to think about it, do his research.”
Given Arsenal are set to part with £72m for his signature, one would assume Galtier’s claim that Pepe is “a player of the highest level” represents more than just a strategy to artificially increase his market value.
Tom Williams – French football expert
Tom Williams, a football journalist specialising in French football, spoke to Sky Sports about the player’s quality and went into detail about his style of play and what Arsenal can expect of their new arrival next season.
“A quick, lithe attacking player, Pepe specialises in barrelling runs from deep positions. Several of his goals last season saw him pick the ball up in midfield and surge past defenders before finishing coolly with the inside of his left foot.
“He’s at his best with space to run into, but his speed of thought and the sharpness of his finishing mean he poses a threat even against tightly packed opposition defences.
“He didn’t live up to expectations at the Africa Cup of Nations, which suggests that he’s still developing as a player, but on his day he is a genuine world-beater.”
Guillem Balague – football journalist
Back in November it was Guillem Balague that announced Arsenal’s interest in signing the winger. The Spanish journalist was one of the first to bring the news of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s arrival to Arsenal and it seems he was in-the-know with this one as well, describing him as a “special” player.
On his youtube channel (via BleacherReport) he had this to say about Pepe.
“He’s mostly left-footed, plays on the right-hand side but also on the left-hand side. It’s mostly from wide areas coming inside that makes him special and it’s what he does with the ball in small spaces that makes him special.
“That’s why Arsenal are looking into the possibility of signing him. Keep an eye on him, he will end up in the Premier League I’m sure.”
The goals can’t be ignored, and the glowing references he’s received suggest the hype is genuine.
The Premier League will be a different challenge for him, but with the goal scoring weight being shared equally among himself, Alexandre Lacazette and Aubameyang, he could settle in very quickly.