Unai Emery thinks Arsenal need to be patient with Nicolas Pépé, who he believes isn’t yet at the level to be able to play every game for the team.
Arsenal signed Pépé from Lille over the summer, in a £72m deal which represents the club’s record signing fee.
To anyone with reasonable expectations of a winger coming from the French league, three goals and four assists in 14 appearances (nine starts) is a decent return. With the price tag on his back and Arsenal playing badly, however, the pressure to do more is ramping up.
The head coach admitted Pépé’s adaptation hasn’t been as quick as they’d hoped so far. He did add that they knew the first year would be tough though.
“His process of adapting to the team is positive, but a little slower than what we wanted,” Emery said. “We have to be patient as well as demanding and what’s more, we have to ensure that he takes responsibility himself.
“He is not quite at the level yet to be able to play in every game. I believe, and I have always believed, that he needs to play in order to reach that level, but obviously there are also games when other players deserve to play. I use the players who I think are going to help us most in each moment.
“But we bought Pepe knowing that the first year would be difficult, that it would be a year of adaptation. We want that to happen as quickly as possible, but we are seeing that we have to have patience.”
One area where Pépé hasn’t needed any time to adapt is in his set-piece delivery. The 24-year-old has scored two direct free-kicks, assisted two set-piece goals and both goals against Crystal Palace came from his corners, even if he didn’t get an assist for either.
Given how poor Arsenal have been in open play, having that delivery has been very important so far.
The winger has also put up excellent dribbling numbers, making the top-three in the league for dribbles completed as well as having a 68% success rate, the same as Wilfried Zaha in first.
All the same, he needs to start putting away some chances in open play. That’s the one piece that has really been missing from his game so far, and when he finds his feet in front of goal he’ll certainly get more appreciation for all the good things he’s already been doing.