On the back of a stellar campaign for Lille that saw him register a combined 33 goals and assists in Ligue 1, Nicolas Pepe has completed a big-money switch to Arsenal that makes him one of the most expensive players in British football history.
The 24-year-old rose through the ranks in France and acquired a growing band of admirers, with Arsenal winning the race after having an €80million (£72.9m) offer accepted by Lille.
Pepe is now under pressure to match the form he showed last season as he embarks on a new chapter, in what will be his first spell outside of French football.
Following confirmation of his move to Emirates Stadium, we look at Pepe’s career to date and explore exactly why Arsenal decided to break their transfer record to sign him.
‘Here we go!’ pic.twitter.com/s9xrOzgGK0
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) August 1, 2019
Goalkeeper… striker… winger
The Ivory Coast international made a name for himself with his performances from the right-hand side of attack last season, but things could have turned out very differently.
Marcelo Bielsa, the man who brought Pepe to Lille from Angers in June 2017, used him in a central striking role until he was sacked and replaced by Christophe Galtier in December that year.
It was only then that Pepe’s career started to take off. He played an important part in Lille’s survival bid in 2017-18 with 13 goals and pushed on last season with 22 in the French top flight – a tally only bettered by Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe – on top of chipping in with 11 assists.
Going further back, meanwhile, the talented wideman often played as a goalkeeper in his teens while at FC Paris Solitaires Est, only focusing on a career as an outfield player when he joined Poitiers in 2012.
— LOSC Lille EN (@LOSC_EN) April 14, 2019
Big chance at Angers
Pepe was recommended to Angers by Poitiers sporting director Philippe Leclerc in 2013 and made his professional debut in November 2014, before a spell on loan with third-tier side Orleans.
The winger was named as the best player in the division as he helped Orleans to promotion, and he impressed enough on his return to Angers to earn a transfer to Lille in June 2017.
His form at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy last season ensured he was a name on the lips of pretty much every elite team across Europe, becoming the first Lille player to score at least 19 goals in a Ligue 1 campaign since Eden Hazard in 2011-12
Napoli are known to have had a bid accepted, while Liverpool and Manchester United are among the English sides rumoured to have made enquiries.
22+11 – Nicolas #Pepe is one of the two players with 20+ goals and 10+ assists in the top-5 European Leagues 2018/19 (22 goals and 11 assists), alongside Lionel Messi. Devasting. pic.twitter.com/8TVoaYtPAR
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) July 26, 2019
What can Arsenal expect?
But it is Arsenal supporters who can look forward to seeing Pepe up close on a weekly basis, having made him the fourth most expensive player in Premier League history behind Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Virgil van Dijk.
No player did more to lift Lille from 17th in 2017-18 to second in 2018-19, with only Lionel Messi (49), Kylian Mbappe (40) and Fabio Quagliarella (34) surpassing Pepe’s combined number of goals and assists (33) in Europe’s top five leagues.
He is a player that thrives on the counter, scoring six goals and attempting 15 shots from fast breaks last season, and he is a nuisance to defend against – as highlighted by the 108 fouls won, the most in Ligue 1 last term.
In fact, Pepe won his team five penalties with his tricky footwork and converted from the spot nine times – only Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic (10) was more successful from 12 yards in the top divisions.
Set to line up alongside world-class attacking talents in the shape of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, and with ammunition provided by Mesut Ozil and fellow new recruit Dani Ceballos, there is every reason to believe Pepe can follow in the footsteps of Hazard by continuing his remarkable rise in his new surroundings.
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