Jose Mourinho proven right about Nicolas Pepe 12 months on from Arsenal transfer

When Arsenal made the decision to splash out a club-record fee of £72million to sign winger Nicolas Pepe last summer from French outfit Lille, it is safe to say that heads were turned and eyebrows were raised.

After narrowly missing out on the top-four at the end of the 2018/19 season, as well as being beaten by Chelsea in the final of the Europa League, it appeared as though the Gunners were in need of one further piece of magic to take them to the next level.

To try and do just that, the Arsenal hierarchy made the decision to sign Pepe from Lille for a fee just north of £70million.

It was a statement of intent by the Emirates Stadium club and one that certainly lead to fans of other Premier League clubs sitting up and taking note of what the Gunners had just done.

Pepe arrived at Arsenal off the back of a fantastic 2018/19 campaign in Ligue 1, as he had scored 22 goals in 38 Ligue 1 appearances, as well as registering 12 assists in all competitions.

It was the kind of form that was met with a wave of expectation.

He was expected to hit the ground running, deliver the goods and strike an instant partnership with Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in a front-three that was predicted to scare the living daylights out of opposition defenders.

Any such hopes the Arsenal fans and former boss Unai Emery had of that happening were quickly distinguished, as Pepe struggled to adapt to life in the Premier League.

In his first 12 Premier League outings, the Ivory Coast international scored just one goal and registered two assists.

It was a far cry from the form that had been expected from the club’s record-signing.

However, though goals and assists have not arrived in bucket loads, Pepe has improved significantly since football returned in June. He has been far more lively, involved and shown a willingness to make things happen.

For example, he played the pass to Aubameyang in last Saturday’s FA Cup final win over Chelsea that sealed the Gunners their first trophy of the Mikel Arteta era. That has to count for something.

With Pepe having now been on the Gunners’ books for just over a year, it is safe to say that the 25-year-old has now started to find his feet and cope with the demands that English football requires.

And his recent form has proven that Tottenham Hotspur chief Jose Mourinho was right about him all along, with the Spurs boss having highlighted the importance of patience being key following his arrival at the Emirates Stadium last summer.

Prior to landing the Spurs job back in November, Mourinho worked as a pundit for Sky Sports’ Premier League coverage and he made a bold prediction about Pepe, insisting that time would be key to him fulfilling his potential in an Arsenal shirt.

“I know Pepe very well,” said Mourinho. “There’s a question mark over the time for his adaption but he’s obviously a kid with a lot of talent.

“This is potentially a very good signing for Arsenal.”

Whilst there is, of course, still plenty more for Pepe to do to justify his £72m price tag, he is heading in the right direction, proving that he can be key for Arteta moving forward.

In total, Pepe racked up 42 appearances for Arsenal during the 2019/20 campaign, scoring eight times and claiming 10 assists.