No one is arguing that Nicolas Pepe is a great player. He had a season to remember at Lille last campaign. Aged just 23, he recorded 22 goals and 11 assists as his side secured Champions League football by finishing second in the Ligue 1. Lille finished 17th the year before, and Pepe’s heroics are a major reason why they jumped to second last season. But do Arsenal need him right now?
Unai Emery is going into his second season at the club, and the funds at his disposal are limited. Arsene Wenger experienced something similar during his time at the club. In this situation, addressing the pressing issues should be the priority for the manager. Incidentally, Arsenal’s attack does not fall into that category. Led by Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal don’t have many problems in scoring goals. Only Liverpool and Manchester CIyt scored more than Arsenal’s 73 in the league last season.
But when it comes to their defense, it is a different case altogether. Arsenal conceded 51 league goals last season. The likes of Wolves, Everton, Leicester, and Newcastle had a better defensive record. In contrast, Liverpool conceded just 22 goals. Emery needs to shore up his defense quickly. The biggest hole in the squad is at center-back.
It seems as though Laurent Koscielny is on his way out of the club. The skipper’s decision to not travel for preseason games has left Emery in a quandary. The other options are Sokratis, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Sokratis showed his ability last season, and he is the only reliable option at Arsenal right now. Mustafi has made to many errors to rely on him, and Holding is coming off a long-term injury.
The ideal situation would have been signing two center-backs this summer. Arsenal signed William Saliba, but he has been loaned back to Saint-Etienne for the coming season. If reports are to be believed, Arsenal will shell out more than £70 million for Pepe. That expenditure will leave much less outlay for a defender. Is that a wise move to make?
Pepe will be a great signing for any club where he goes. But the context of Arsenal’s situation raises questions. The signing of Pepe will limit Emery’s defense to improve his defense. Pepe will improve the attack, but the opportunity cost of signing him will be a bigger one to pay. Instead of getting the winger, Arsenal can shell out the same fee for one or even two capable central defenders. Arguably that move will have a better impact on the overall squad.
Emery has pressure on him to deliver after his debut season, and part of that is making wise signings. The recruitment of Dani Ceballos fits the bill, but Nicolas Pepe raises an eyebrow. It could work out as he is just that good, but there are other issues he should address first. Otherwise, the fifth place could beckon yet again.