Happy Monday to you and yours. Hope you are doing all good. In London it’s bloody freezing and as I tap away at my laptop on the tube heading in to London for a day of work, I’m wondering about how cold it was for those subs sat on the sideline who didn’t get on at the weekend for The Arsenal.
Most notably I’m thinking about Nicolas Pepe today, because after Saka went down with a knock around the hour mark, it was Pepe who I’d have thought would have been the de facto choice for Mikel Arteta to lean on. He is the most experienced of the wide forwards, he is the guy who last season had our second highest end product in terms of goals and assists , so with the game still finely balanced at 1-0 with 30 minutes to go, you would have thought that Arteta would call on Pepe to play in his preferred wide right position.
Instead he chose Gabriel Martinelli and the lad went on to score a bit of a wonder strike with one of his first touches. It was absolutely the right call from Arteta and the young Brazilian repaid his faith by making an almost immediate impact. The goal itself was an intelligent run, a deft finish and is the kind of movement you want to see from your wide men, especially when you think about how we play with our full backs. Tomiaysu may not drive to the by line as much as Tierney or Tavares do, but he still makes those runs and so those inside forwards need to be alert to make runs in behind. That is what Martinelli will do all day – make the run – and I can’t help but thinking about Pepe and the way he plays, wondering whether he would have made the same run?
I’m not so sure he would. Pepe starts from out wide and comes in. He’s a guy who likes to pick the ball up and dribble – not often successful in the final third – and he is a guy who will finish and create chances, but only from inside the box. Martinelli too feels to me like a deadly finisher from inside the box, but he also adds a level of directness in his running that we don’t get with Nico Pepe. So the fact that Arteta called on Martinelli against Newcastle is interesting. Does it mean that we are slowly seeing signs of a gradual phasing out of Pepe in favour of other players? Or is this a case of Arteta looking at the fact we need to get more minutes in Martinelli’s legs now, because when the AFCON comes around he’s going to need to be up and running in terms of match fitness?
It’s interesting and the supposed rumour of Newcastle sniffing around Pepe in January seems to be conveniently timed. If Newcastle came in and offered big cash for the player – let’s say something like £35million or thereabouts, we’d have to consider it. It’d be half of what we paid for the player but the player was probably never worth the £72million in the first place and it puts the Sanellhi era into more shade than it does the player himself in my opinion. I’ve always been a fan of Pepe and I love it when he has been at his best scoring goals and arriving in the box at the right time, but that has only ever threatened to happen for any period of time and we are now at the stage where if a club came in with a half decent bid, you probably need to take the cash and agree that it has never really exploded as we wanted it to.
That would be a big shame, but if you’re going to have a situation like this where you admit defeat on a player’s career at a club, you want it to be because somebody else has massively stepped up and so you don’t feel it as badly. If Martinelli can get the minutes, if he can show the same end product that Pepe has done at times and if he can soften the eventual blow of losing the Ivorian, then whilst Arsenal fans will be right to be frustrated that Pepe has never really hit the heights we hoped, if we have good enough replacements lined up to make the right kind of impact, it means that we’re achieving our objectives.
I’m not sure whether the club are quite ready to give up on Pepe just yet though. This may have just been a particular type of player for a particular type of opponent that we saw on Saturday lunchtime. The fact Pepe has seen zero minutes in something like four or five games suggests a pattern is building, but we don’t really know at this stage. If we get to the point where Pepe hasn’t seen a minute of action by the time we play Southampton at home in about two weeks time, then I think we can probably start drawing some conclusions, because we have games in quick succession in United and Everton away, where surely Arteta will want to rotate. But it does feel like it could potentially be the beginning of the end of Pepe’s Arsenal career that we’re witnessing.
I’m sure we’ll also start to hear Arteta being asked about it so when it does eventually happen, it’ll be intriguing to see what he says about the player, as well as what he has to do to get back in to the first XI.
Right, I think i’ll leave you to ponder on that for now. You have yourself a wonderful week and I’ll be back tomorrow to chew the Arsenal fat with you.
Catch you then.