Nicolas Pepe’s Arsenal career is yet to catch fire – but Thierry Henry, Jose Mourinho and Graeme Souness have all backed him to be a Premier League success. Pepe joined from Lille for a club record £72million last summer, but has only shown flashes of his quality under Mikel Arteta.
The 25-year-old winger scored the deciding goal in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Sheffield United last weekend, after coming on to replace Eddie Nketiah for the last half-hour.
And he will be hoping for another chance to impress when Arteta takes his side to face his former employers Manchester City at the Etihad on Saturday.
Gunners legend Henry has previously said Pepe must be given time to adapt to the Premier League – and he should know, having initially struggled to cope with the demands of the top flight after joining Arsenal from Juventus in 1999.
The French striker went on to score 175 goals in 258 Premier League appearances – and his career will give fans hope that they will see more from Pepe in his second season at the Emirates.
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“When you arrive like that, you’re always going to be talked about, and people are always going to target you,” Henry told Yahoo Sport last year.
“He needs to make sure he doesn’t listen to that and go out and perform. People need to forget about the price tag. He didn’t ask to be bought for that amount of money himself.
“It’s not always easy to arrive in a team, adapt to a new style of play. The Premier League, as we know, is not the same as the French League or any other league, by the way. So he needs to adapt to that. We need to give him time.”
Sky Sports pundit Souness recently echoed Henry’s sentiments, saying he is hoping for a big season from Pepe now the winger has had more time to acclimatise.
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“I still see a player in Nicolas Pepe,” the former Liverpool midfielder wrote in a column for The Times.
“I’m hoping he has a big year because he’s not really grasped the intensity and physicality of the Premier League yet.”
And Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho, while now on the opposite side of the north London divide from Pepe, has previously said the winger can shine in the right system.
“Last season after I left United, I went a few times to Lille because my friend [Christophe Galtier] is the coach there so I know quite a lot about his qualities,” Mourinho told Sky Sports at the beginning of last season.
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“They were playing 4-4-2 and he was the right sided player. He knows how to defend, to play in the 4-4-2 as the right winger, you know how to defend, not only that area but also the inside.
“He does that very well. When he has the ball and also without the ball, he is very effective and very direct.
“The goals that he misses against Arsenal, he normally doesn’t miss it. He’s very cool in front of the keeper and I think this boy has fantastic potential.
“If they are to play three in midfield with him, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at the front, looking to the movements, I think they can make it a real force.”
There has been much speculation that Arteta will revert to a 4-3-3 system having signed midfielder Thomas Partey on transfer deadline day – and the hope will be that if could work to Pepe’s benefit.
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