Nicolas Pepe outperformed standards set by Eden Hazard at Lille and the hard data suggests Arsenal have snared a worthy Premier League heir to the brilliant Belgian.
The Gunners fought off competition from Napoli and others to sign Ivory Coast international Pepe for a reported £72million, completing the highly anticipated deal on Thursday.
It is an extreme outlay that could come to look like a savvy investment as Unai Emery adds further firepower to a fearsome front line.
Here, we dive into the Opta numbers to discover just why Arsenal have spent so big to secure the 24-year-old as their new record signing.
The name’s Pépé, Nicolas Pépé: licensed to thrill pic.twitter.com/mmNwt1gSaP
— LOSC Lille EN (@LOSC_EN) June 3, 2019
The complete attacking package
Comfortable playing on either flank or through the middle, Pepe is swiftly becoming a high-achieving model of the modern forward.
The former Angers player struck 14 times in all competitions during a breakthrough 2017-18 campaign before announcing his arrival into a higher echelon with a match-winning hat-trick away to Amiens in September.
That form continued throughout the season as Pepe’s remarkable return of 22 goals lifted Lille from 17th to second in the space of 12 months.
And there is plenty more than pure goals for Arsenal fans to get excited about.
Pepe tallied the second most assists in Ligue 1 last season with 11. For new team-mates Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, that is a figure worth fawning over.
Indeed, across Europe’s top five leagues in 2018-19, only Lionel Messi (49), Kylian Mbappe (40) and Fabio Quagliarella (34) surpassed Pepe’s combined number of goals and assists (33).
For comparison, Real Madrid’s freshly minted Galactico Hazard managed 31.
Happy th Birthday, Nicolas Pépé! pic.twitter.com/yPmMbRY30r
— LOSC Lille EN (@LOSC_EN) May 29, 2019
King of the counter
Emery’s men will be tough to catch in the Premier League this season – at least as far as their fleet-footed forwards are concerned.
Aubameyang and Lacazette alone present enough headaches for defences wishing to push high up the pitch and adding Pepe to the equation significantly increases Arsenal’s threat on the counter.
The new man scored six goals and attempted 15 shots from fast breaks last season, second in both categories in the big five leagues to Paris Saint-Germain star Mbappe.
Pepe’s ability to breeze past defenders and be first to loose balls also saw him win five penalties – one behind Wilfried Zaha’s six – and 108 fouls, the most in Ligue 1.
Ex-Chelsea talisman Hazard was fouled 104 times during his final season in the Premier League.
— LOSC Lille EN (@LOSC_EN) April 26, 2019
Ice cool from the spot
There was agony for Aubameyang in March when he failed to beat Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris from the spot with a golden late chance to win the north London derby at Wembley.
Such frustration might become a thing of the past.
Along with being a prolific penalty winner, Pepe converted nine spot-kicks last season, ranking him second to nerveless Crystal Palace midfielder Luka Milivojevic (10) across the top five leagues in Europe.
Among that number was a technically adept effort with the gaze of the Parc des Princes – including Gianluigi Buffon 12 yards away – trained in his direction.
Expectations at Emirates Stadium are bound to be high, but Pepe appears to have the temperament and skill set to make this new, potentially career-making move a resounding success.
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