Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha has defended Ivory Coast compatriot Nicolas Pepe after an underwhelming start to life in the Premier League for the £72m summer signing from Lille.
Arsenal broke their transfer record to sign Pepe from the Ligue 1 outfit, but so far the 24-year-old has scored just one Premier League goal in the 2019/20 campaign.
The Ivorian, who scored 22 goals and registered 11 assists during the 2018/19 season, has struggled to adapt to life in the English top-flight, but his teammate and Palace forward Zaha has backed the 24-year-old to show the ability that attracted Arsenal’s interest in bringing him to The Emirates.
“I see the social media, I see everything and it’s a thing where he needs time. He’s come from another league, he’s young,” Zaha told the BBC (via Daily Star).
“There’s this price tag that he has not put on himself, people have put that on him because of his performances, so you’ve got to give him time for him to reproduce that, it’s not going to come like that.
“I have got nothing but faith in him, I’ve got confidence that he will produce the same thing that he did before, because we both play for Ivory Coast, I’ve seen the talent he’s got, but not everyone sees it.”
Zaha’s passionate defence of his international teammate could arguably be rooted in his own personal experiences of struggling with the transition to the demands of a top-six Premier League side, after the forward secured a £15m transfer to Manchester United in 2013 only to move back to Palace in 2015 for a fee as low as £3m.
The 27-year-old’s steady ascent having returned to south London illuminates how players whose game is based on flair, trickery and a decisive end product is rarely a straightforward process; there will be bumps in the road and scrutiny will be relentless.
Zaha and Pepe’s playing styles are similar, and given their experience of having played together with Ivory Coast, the Palace forward clearly believes that Pepe is capable of defying the “social media” critics, as alluded to by Zaha.
There can be no doubting Pepe’s abilities after such an impressive spell in Ligue 1 with Lille, and Zaha’s passionate defence of his international colleague is likely to fuel the Arsenal man’s confidence as he bids to find form and propel the Gunners into the realms of Champions League qualification.