Enigma Nicolas Pepe impressed with a goal and two assists for Arsenal in their thumping win over Sunderland… but could they could be the final flourishes for the club-record £72m signing?
- Arsenal beat Sunderland 5-1 in the Carabao Cup quarter-final on Tuesday night
- Eddie Nketiah bagged a hat-trick while Nicolas Pepe scored a first-half strike
- The Ivorian assisted Nketiah as the striker sealed his hat-trick in the second half
- But the club-record signing could be heading towards a January departure
One hundred and out for Nicolas Pepe as closing time approaches in last chance saloon? That is what some critics believe.
They think the winger, signed for a club-record £72million in 2019, is limping towards a January exit having exhausted all patience in north London.
If they are right, and this 100th appearance proves a final flourish, at least it provided some last-minute cause to raise his bat.
Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe who signed for a club-record £72million in 2019 could leave in January
The winger doubled the Gunners’ lead against Arsenal on his 100th appearance for the club
A goal, two assists and a few dashes of magic on Pepe’s first start since October. If nine Premier League matches since then have brought just 12 minutes of action, this 90 allowed for Pepe in all his paradox.
Those supporters who revelled in his nutmegs and nonchalance might be entitled to ask: where has this Pepe been in bigger games? And more importantly, where is he going?
It was Paul Merson who suggested this might be Pepe’s final night at the bar.
The Ivorian provided an assist for Eddie Nketiah who sealed his hat-trick in the second half
‘I think if they could sell him in January, they’d probably sell him,’ he said. ‘He can be an eight out of ten or a four out of ten.’
Brutal? Sure. But fair? The numbers suggest perhaps not – 26 goals and 20 assists in a century of Arsenal games should not be sniffed at.
The verdict of his manager, on the other hand? It is damning that he has been surplus to requirements even since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s exile.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta (above) still views Pepe as a fringe player despite Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s recent exile
That Gabriel Martinelli has returned from long-term injury and jumped back ahead in the queue.
That newer arrivals – the likes of Aaron Ramsdale and Takehiro Tomiyasu – have proven such shrewd business. It is a concern, too, that issues extend behind closed doors.
‘It’s because of what I see every day,’ Mikel Arteta explained recently about fringe players such as Pepe.
When opportunities arrive, all the winger can do is perform and Tuesday night, to his credit, he did.
There were few first-half fireworks but he was a constant avenue through which Arsenal threaded together attacks.
Pepe snatched the opportunity to impress and provided first-half fireworks for Arsenal
He roused the crowd with some defensive tenacity, too. And then came his goal.
Celebrations were understated after Pepe worked a neat one-two with Cedric Soares and netted via a deflection.
He was entitled to enjoy his second-half assist – a cruel nutmeg on Denver Hume before Pepe picked out Eddie Nketiah.
The crowd went giddy when he set up a debut goal for Charlie Patino late on.
Perhaps the most fitting image of this enigma, however, came earlier, moments before he laid on Nketiah’s third – when Pepe tried to turn inside his own half, lost the ball and Arteta put his hands to his face.