Martin Keown thinks Nicolas Pépé could block Bukayo Saka’s development, even though the pair don’t play in the same position.
In midweek, Arsenal managed another big win in the Europa League, despite heavy rotation and reliance on a number of young players.
Towards the end of the match, Nicolas Pépé and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made substitute appearances, but Bukayo Saka was completely rested from the squad.
This is presumably what sparked a strange set of comments from Martin Keown, seemingly worried that Pépé is blocking 18-year-old Saka from getting games.
“If you think back to Arsene Wenger, he would never have blocked the path of a young player but they are in danger of doing that with Bukayo Saka,” Keown claimed.
“Pepe, is he going to get into the team? It’s a massive amount of money they have paid for him and Lille will be laughing all the way to the bank with that one.
“It’s still early days and maybe the player will turn it around but I haven’t really seen what I expected to see from him.”
We’re quite a few games into the season now, but for those who still aren’t aware, Saka is a left winger and Pépé is a right winger. I’ve watched Saka with the youth teams for a long time and he’s certainly not as effective on the right.
I’d argue Keown’s line of thinking is roughly equivalent to worrying that Héctor Bellerín might block Kieran Tierney’s development. There may well be some occasions when Bellerín makes the squad and Tierney doesn’t, but it’s certain to be for rest, not as a tactical decision.
Pépé and Saka just aren’t competing with each other for a spot. It’s the usual media narrative of worrying that a big signing will block a promising young English talent, but it just doesn’t work here.