Nicolas Pepe has finished the season in scintillating form and put in a man of the match display in front of the 10,000 fans who returned to the Emirates for Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Brighton.
With seven goals and one assist in his last seven starts in all competitions, he finally looks to be finding the confidence and consistency that has been lacking throughout much of his Gunners career so far.
The only shame now for the Ivorian is that the season has come to an end, stopping his excellent run dead in its tracks.
But when it comes to Pepe we have been here before.
In his first season, it’s safe to say he struggled for the most part.
Three different managers, a new league and a global pandemic certainly didn’t help as he managed just four goals in his opening four months in north London.
Towards the end of the campaign, though, the Ivorian began to find something close to a consistent level of performance.
There was an improvement in terms of end product, with goal involvements in each of Arsenal’s FA Cup matches from the quarter-final onwards, and were it not for an Ainsley Maitland-Niles offside in the build-up, the final victory over Chelsea may well have been remembered for the Ivorian’s 25-yard bullet instead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s excellent display.
The expectation then was that Pepe would kick on to become the player the Gunners had hoped they would get when they spent £72million to bring him over from Lille in the summer of 2019.
Sadly, though, it was not to be.
The 25-year-old went on to start just four of Arsenal’s opening 15 Premier League games and, despite scoring regularly in the Europa League, seemed to have moved down to second-choice behind Willian.
Unsurprisingly his form and confidence suffered. A petulant red card against Leeds did not help, but it’s very difficult to get any sort of rhythm to your game if you’re in and out of the side as often as Pepe was at the beginning of this season.
When Bukayo Saka moved over to the Ivorian’s preferred right-wing position after Christmas it seemed as though his time in north London may be coming to an end before it had even really begun.
Those stories proved to be premature though and since the end of January the Ivorian has gone on to become a key part of the squad.
Now that he has found this consistency the onus is on Mikel Arteta to help ensure he can keep it up.
The Spaniard got it wrong by picking Willian over him at the start of the season and making a similar mistake this summer could prove catastrophic in the career path of Arsenal’s most expensive asset.
In fairness to him, Arteta does seem to have arrived to the Nicolas Pepe appreciation party even if he is a little late.
“I am very encouraged and positive for two reasons,” said the 39-year-old when asked about whether his winger could continue this form into next season after his brace against Crystal Palace last Wednesday.
“One, because he has come a long way in terms of consistency and what he’s producing in games. Not in the Premier League, but what he’s done in Europe this season.
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“And the second one because he’s changed his mindset. He wants to look at every mindset, he wants to look at every post-match reflection that we do with him.
“Individually he wants to work and he wants to be the best. When that happens and he has the talent that he has, I think it’s a really good mixture.”
There will be plenty of areas where Arteta and Edu will have uncertainty this summer as they plan their squad for next season. If they keep playing Pepe in 2021/22 though, the Ivorian has already proved that he will not be one of them.