Sunday, September 25, 2022

Saturday round-up: One winger out, one winger in?

Morning all.

A quick Saturday round-up for you with as little reference to Thursday night as possible. As the manager said, that game is history, no good for me. One for all you Shakespears Sister fans out there. What a mad thing though: I spent all week trying not to think about it in the build up, and I’m doing my utmost not to think of it ever again now it’s over.

I see via Instagram that Nicolas Pepe has signed up with a new agency which, if it wasn’t fairly obvious already, makes a summer move away even more likely. Our number 19 coincidentally clocks in at number 19 on the minutes of playing time chart this season, with 922 in total, and just 652 in the Premier League. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that this is a signing which hasn’t worked out as well as we would have liked when we paid £72m for him in the summer of 2019.

The excitement back then was palpable, he’d had a great season for Lille, scoring 22 goals and making 11 assists, and even though he was the exact opposite of what then head coach Unai Emery was looking for, the idea of him hooking up with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette as a kind of fluid, multi-faceted front three was a tantalising one.

I’d have to dig a lot deeper into stats to see how often they played together and how many goals they scored when they did, but it never really worked. He had a good end to his first season, helping us win the FA Cup, but then we signed a geriatric from Chelsea to play in his position, which really should have raised some red flags about how he was viewed by Mikel Arteta. In reality though, it’s been the emergence of Bukayo Saka, a generational talent from our Academy which has been the biggest impediment to the Ivorian.

At a young age Saka brings a level of consistency which Pepe has just never produced in his time here. Leave aside the bigger picture about how often he’s played or getting a run of games, it’s apparent even on a granular level. When the ball comes to Saka, you know it’s going to stick, and you know he’s capable of producing. You know Pepe can produce too, his goals and assists show he can do it, but he loses possession too easily and going back towards his own goal, he leaves a lot to be desired defensively. For a manager like Arteta, I believe that aspect of his game is the one that has damaged his chances most.

Still, with two games left to play and perhaps a need to add a bit of freshness to the team for the fixtures that remain, it would be nice to see him go out on a bit of a high. A goal or two to help us to a top four finish would go some way to repaying that transfer fee – which obviously isn’t his responsibility or anything, but as a way to frame what seems like an inevitable departure, it’d be great.

Meanwhile, it looks as if our first transfer of the ‘summer’ is about to go through. We’re paying Brazilian side Sao Paulo around £3m for 19 year old winger Marquinhos.

There are suggestions that he’ll be signed then loaned out for the season, perhaps to a La Liga club, but I guess that will depend on how ready they think he is for English football next season. He’s left footed apparently, so perhaps seen as some kind of longer-term back-up for Saka who, I think, may well develop away from that right hand forward side.

I guess it’s interesting to note that when Brexit happened and people spoke about the impact it might have on the transfer market, there were suggestions that signings from South America might increase. Whether that’s at a play here remains to be seen, but the Brazilian influence at Arsenal certainly looks like it’s growing. We already have a couple of Gabriels, in Martinelli and Magalhaes, and we’re strongly linked with another in the shape of Man City’s Gabriel Jesus. Edu looking for more pals for his back garden churrascaria, or simply a consequence of the market we’re operating in?

I think the club will probably be after somebody more oven-ready to add to the wide areas this summer, especially if Pepe is sold, but deals like this make some sense as a way of potentially adding depth to the squad for the future. The money isn’t huge, if he makes an impact but doesn’t quite make the grade, you can probably turn some kind of profit, and if he turns out to be a ‘hidden gem’ you’re quids in on and off the pitch.

Right, I’m gonna leave it there for now. Yesterday’s Arsecast Extra is below if you haven’t had a chance to listen yet. It does, of course, contain a lot of Thursday night content, but that’s the nature of the beast. For now, take it easy, more from me here tomorrow.

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