Morning folks and welcome to the midweek of the first international break. This is always one of the more tedious periods in the season and knowing that we have another week and a half before proper football comes back is frustrating to say the least.
What we also get at this time of the international breaks is players going away with their national teams and talking to their respective national press and that means stories emerge usually designed to rile up people when usually there is little to be riled up about in truth. We had a bit of it when Torreira went away with the Uruguayan national team but apparently now that role is very much up for grabs, so a few people have been asking Nicolas Pepe about what it feels like to sit on the bench.
The folks at Canal+ have been posing the questions and of course the player said that he doesn’t want to sit on the bench. But thankfully he’s diffused what could potentially be another player saga by also saying he talks to Arteta and his assistants all of the time and that it is up to him to prove to his coach that he is worthy of starting in more games.
Of course the hope right now is that purely by just not being Willian or Lacazette and the funk that they are in, he can get himself more game time and certainly at this stage I think it is worth giving him half a dozen games in a row to see whether he’s capable of giving us something different.
That’s why I like Pepe. He IS something different in a team that Arteta has built designed to be pragmatic and solid with a structure that does not concede goals. But football is about attack as much as it is defence and unfortunately this season we have seen very little of our attack. Nine goals in eight games tells you that and unless we add a splash of variety to our attacking play we are on course for a very long season.
What I like about Pepe is his ability on the ball. But here’s the crucial part: we have to have a Pepe who is full of confidence. At the moment it doesn’t seem like any of our players are full of confidence but just by listening to how Pepe speaks, how he looks quite shy and is apparently quite a quiet lad, you can see how potentially he is a guy who might need an arm around the shoulder. I hope Arteta is going for that at the moment because it feels like we need a Nicolas Pepe who feels that little bit taller. He needs to feel like he has the backing of his manager and one start in the Premier League all season hardly screams that.
But the form of our attacking players gives Arteta the opportunity. It gives him the chance to say to the more senior players like Willian and Lacazette that, put simply, they haven’t delivered and that means that he needs to go in a different direction. It all feels set up for Arteta to be telling those two that at least one is coming out for a bit and he’s going to reverse the roles to give Pepe more playing time up until Christmas.
And if he gets those minutes then we’re going to be frustrated. Pepe will lose the ball. He’ll hit the odd duff free kick. He’ll flit in and out of games. However I believe he’ll also have moments of brilliance that could be the difference for us. Remember Ramsey? A few mates I know always used to say he needs three or four 90 minute games under his belt before his engine is up, running and purring. That’s the same with so many players. You can’t chuck them in for one and expect it all to click straight away. You have to give them a momentum of games.
He’s already proven he can score goals. We’ve seen it this season and last. And we’ve seen that he can beat a man. But that is not going to happen as much if he doesn’t feel the confidence to make that decision to go for the higher risk strategy of taking somebody on. As we’ve all seen Arteta prefers that technical security and retention of the ball. That’s why Willian has been getting picked. But after half a dozen games of him never really delivering anything of note, it is time to give the Ivorian a go and it is time we let his leash a little looser. We need to be able to give him freedom of expression.
I’ve seen people say that Pepe has similar frustrating elements to his game as Alexis, but the Alexis was a much better player than Pepe. Perhaps he was. Perhaps Pepe will never get to the heights we saw Alexis deliver for us for a couple of seasons. But Pepe under a manager who wants a very rigid structure and Pepe under a manager who preferred freedom of expression on the pitch would be two very different footballers I reckon.
I’m not making this comparison to show any preference to Wenger, or to bad mouth Arteta, by the way. I still have all of the belief that things will get better under Mikel. But it is my hope that we start to unshackle those rigid offensive structures we have in favour of the mavericks. What else have we got to lose? Pepe has pace, the ability to beat a man, in the right combinations (think Bellerin against Rapid when he came on) he can be devastating. But we have to find a way to emphasize those attributes.
Hopefully that is in Mikel’s mind too.
Catch you all tomorrow.