This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Arsenal will face Aston Villa this weekend and the Gunners simply have to deploy Nicolas Pepe as a winger instead of a striker.
At 2-0 up against Watford last weekend, Arsenal were almost home and dry.
After the break, though, the Hornets took the game to their opponents and ended up registering 31 shots in total as they clawed their way back to a 2-2 draw.
While the Gunners did find themselves in the ascendancy early on, it was more down to Pierre-Emerick Aubayemang’s clinical finishing rather than the team’s overall attacking play.
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Pepe has not shown the Premier League exactly what he is capable of so far. Across the first five matches of the league season, he has recorded just one assist. However, it doesn’t help when he is being played out of position, like at Vicarage Road.
The Ivory Coast international is a right winger. That’s where he has played the majority of his games, and where he performed at his best for Lille last term. He scored 23 goals and provided 12 assists on that flank, and it was those displays that will have convinced the north London outfit to part with a club-record fee for his services.
However, Emery decided to play him up front alongside Aubameyang last weekend.
Although it would be unfair to say he was ineffective – four successful dribbles indicate that he did at least have some kind of impact – he struggled to truly make his mark, taking just one shot throughout the game.
Just a week before, he lined up in his preferred role against Tottenham Hotspur in the north London derby.
Despite playing against one of the division’s best teams in a tense atmosphere, the 24-year-old rose to the occasion and was arguably the Gunners’ best player, this time taking seven shots while also creating two chances, one of which ended up being an assist.
Against Spurs, his desire to cut inside was obvious, as his heatmap showed. On Sunday, though, he was unable to do so as he was asked to play in a more central role. This didn’t stop him drifting out to the right on several occasions, but it severely hampered his threat.
So far this season, Pepe has averaged 3.8 dribbles per game, which is the most in the Premier League. In the top 10, there are no natural strikers, which is telling. His ability to beat his man is one of his biggest strengths and puts him in dangerous positions. Although playing him up front does not stop him doing so, more congestion prevents him from being as potent.
One can only hope that Emery will allow him to perform to his best against Villa on Sunday by playing him on the right. If not, it could be another frustrating afternoon for the Gunners and for Pepe.