Nicolas Pepe’s arrival could end up being bittersweet for divisive Arsenal figure – opinion

Arsenal are a club who seemingly have no boundaries when it comes to launching a surprise, particularly with big-name signings.

The arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January 2018 will likely have sent a shudder through the Premier League.

This was one of the world’s top strikers, a man who had a habit of scoring over 20 times per season, joining a club languishing in the Europa League.

Yet, here Arsenal stand once again, having landing one of Europe’s hottest talents.

Last weekend, news emerged that the Gunners had agreed a colossal deal to sign the 23-goal Nicolas Pepe from Lille, and the deal was eventually confirmed this week.

This is a player who was described as having the capabilities to play for Barcelona or Real Madrid by former teammate Jose Fonte, which gives a glowing indication of the talent he possesses.

Last season, the Ivorian was involved in 34 goals in all competitions, whilst completing 2.7 dribbles per match according to WhoScored.

Yet, it goes without saying that the Gunners may actually somehow be the victors of failing to land Wilfried Zaha, a man who scored 13 fewer goals than the player Arsenal are now capturing.

It’s quite the turn of events for Unai Emery’s team who have landed him for a fee of £72m due to be paid in instalments.

However, despite all the hype surrounding the winger, it could prove detrimental to one of the club’s leading lights.

Mesut Ozil causes debate amongst the Arsenal fanbase and continued to do so in pre-season despite his improved performances.

The German has looked as though he’s had renewed work rate about his game but that may not stop Emery from ditching him once more during the upcoming season.

After all, the attacking midfielder is someone who rarely commanded the support of his manager in 2018/19.

Following a defeat against West Ham, a match Ozil was left out of entirely despite being fit, the Spaniard said: “He’s working this week normally. Like I said we win with him and lose with him. Today the decision is to come with these players.”

It was hardly a heartfelt message to Ozil from Emery who had already been left on the bench at the Vitality Stadium when Arsenal struggled against Bournemouth earlier in the season.

Whether they get on is seemingly an ongoing saga but despite remaining one of the manager’s five captains and working his way back into the team, his place is still far from certain.

If Pepe arrives, then he could well find himself on the bench again.

This is based upon the way Emery preferred to line up during his first year in charge of Arsenal. Against teams like Huddersfield at home, he opted for a three-man midfield which was composed of Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka.

It feels likely the latter two names will be starters again but with Dani Ceballos also arriving, he could take the place of Guendouzi and give the Gunners more flair in the middle of the park – which in itself negates the need for Ozil.

In pre-season, Aubameyang has been utilised on the wings and it would be difficult to comprehend if Emery dropped either him or Alexandre Lacazette to accommodate Pepe.

Last season, Emery chose to go with a 4-2-3-1 formation in some games whilst he also utilised a 3-4-2-1 with Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan playing as inside forwards and the wing-backs providing the width.

The former Germany international only played as a natural ten on the odd occasion when Lacazette and Aubameyang were partnered together as a duo in attack though, and in total he made just 15 Premier League starts as a central attacking midfielder.

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Of course, the former PSG boss could revert back to 4-2-3-1 to accommodate Arsenal’s World Cup winner.

But both Ceballos and Mkhitaryan can play in that offensive midfield role whilst Alex Iwobi has often looked threatening through the middle.

With that in mind, Ozil’s place isn’t even guaranteed in this formation – and Emery isn’t guaranteed to use it either. 4-2-3-1 was used frequently during the start of the Spaniard’s reign but became increasingly secondary throughout the campaign. He barely utilised it at PSG, preferring a 4-3-3.

If you consider the bigger picture, it would feel rather strange if the Islington club smashed their transfer record to then not play him, so someone must make way. And with essentially three forwards on the pitch, having Ozil just behind them reduces Arsenal’s defensive resilience considerably.

A quick winger is arguably something Ozil has been crying out for throughout his time at Arsenal. He’s lacked someone he can unleash in attacking scenarios but Pepe’s arrival could actually leave him feeling rather bittersweet.

It would be harsh to suggest this is the beginning of the end for Arsenal’s number ten, but it may give Emery an even bigger reason to not start him.

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