Nicolas Pepe signing can change Arsenal’s fortunes

Arsenal have surprised the football world by splashing the cash and signing forward Nicolas Pepe from Lille for a cool £72m, and the player has all of the tools to put the Gunners back on the map again.

The surprise element comes in different packages for Arsenal who have become famous for not spending over the odds on a player and also because they are a club who love to haggle for a price. But in Pepe’s case that was non existent and the deal was seemingly one of the smoothest the club have made in years. They enquired, they offered the money and terms and the player is now wearing the famous red shirt.

Arsenal only had to fight off Napoli for his signature in the end but that shouldn’t deter from how good Pepe is and the club have signed a world class player. Pepe had an excellent season at Lille where he scored 22 goals in 38 games but that only tells one side of the story. His goals, commitment and excellent play helped Lille finish runners up to PSG and qualify for the Champions League. He also made PSG run ragged and scored a few goals when Lille thrashed the eventual Ligue 1 champions 5-1 a few months ago.

Pepe has that quality about him where you feel at 24 he has matured and has the potential to become a world class player. Up until his signing it was looking like a quiet period for a club the size of Arsenal who had only brought in some loans and splashed out on Gabriel Martinelli for £6m, a Brazilian forward, unproven but young but comes without the wow factor- in Pepe they now have that.

But here is the deal clincher- he will almost certainly be paired up front with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who was excellent last season in finishing as the Premier League joint top goal scorer with 22 goals. Now can you imagine the potential of both of these players together? Arsenal suddenly have arguably the deadliest strike force in the league. What this means for Alexandre Lacazette is anyone’s guess, but if these two hit it off then Lacazette’s career with the Gunners could well be coming to an end.

As for the long suffering Arsenal fans this could finally be the signing that signals a positive change at the club. While they are too far off from league titles, a good league run, and  a cup run and or win is certainly on the cards as the club try and get back into the Champions League where they will feel they belong. Roll on next season.

Top Ligue 1 Midfielders in 2018/19: Houssem Aouar

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In his professional career Houssem Aouar has only ever known playing for Lyon, and the fans love the midfielder. One of the reasons for this is that Aouar is a local boy and was born in Lyon in 1998 just weeks after France won their first World Cup.

Aouar has grown into his role at Lyon over the last couple of seasons and is now seen as a natural selection when the team plays each season. What caught Lyon’s attention was that Aouar was to be found to be able to play in any position in midfield and he can play as a winger, attacking midfielder and even a holding one- that is priceless for a club and quite rare.

Aouar finished 6th in the European Fantasy League rankings for midfielders in Ligue 1 and ended up with a points total of 60, the same as Ismaila Sarr who plays for Rennes. The player started 35 games last season and was involved in 14 of Lyon’s goals- scoring 7 and assisting in 7. When he played Lyon had 10 clean sheets and he was only booked two times with no red cards showing his maturity and he is still only 21. His value last season was placed at 8m.

It was not a good start to the season for Aouar who in his first five games managed just 4 points. Arguably his best game came in November when Lyon played Guingamp away from home, it was a thrilling match that ended 4-2 to Lyon. Aouar scored a goal and assisted in another and was able to earn 6 points. He earned 6 points in two other games later that season for more assists and clean sheets but was not able to topple that score for one game.

His worst points tally came against PSG when Lyon lost 5-0. Because of his position he didn’t lose points for goals conceded but he did pick up a yellow card and ended the game with -1 point. To his credit this was the only game of the season where he ended with minus points.

Aouar’s best period of the season started when Lyon beat Nimes 2-0 in mid October and ran for the next four games where he remained consistent and so did his club and picked up 18 points.

Lyon chased for Europe but could not catch eventual runners up Lille who had a superb season themselves. However 3rd place for Lyon was good enough to enter the play-offs for the Champions League proper where they will feel very confident that they can qualify from.

The most impressive statement to make about Aouar is that he was Lyon’s best midfielder last season. Better than Nebil Fekir which says everything and statistically better than Tottenham bound Tanguy Ndombele. His future in football looks very exciting.

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Top Ligue 1 Defenders in 2018/19: Thiago Silva

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Thiago Silva feels like part of the furniture at multi champions PSG and the Brazilian has certainly been loyal to the club from Paris. He joined the club in 2012 from AC Milan and has played almost 200 league games and counting cups that rises to almost 300 games.

It was another solid year for Silva in the back four even if it meant just the league title this season as PSG imploded in the domestic cups and also the Champions League. Still at 34 Silva is rightly regarded as one of the best defenders in the game today.

Silva started the season with a value of 9.5m in the fantasy rankings and finished 5th in the defenders rankings for Ligue 1. He earned 60 points and was just four shy of fellow Brazilian Dante Costa. Silva has never been one for his goals, which is justifiable given his position and he did not score any this past season although he did assist in one goal. He was able to be part of a four man wall that kept 14 clean sheets and he was booked on four occasions, but not sent off.

Whilst Silva did earn 5 points for keeping a clean sheet in PSG’s opening 4-0 victory over Caen it was in the following games where he struggled. Even though PSG won their next 3 matches, they conceded in each of them including 2 against Nimes and that meant that Silva was punished and earned -1 point for those games.

Because Silva wasn’t able to earn any extra points through scoring goals his best points tally in single match was just 5, which he earned 14 times. He had two moments of good consistency in the season. The first was just before Christmas in a period which saw the champions thrash Guingamp 9-0 and he earned points in 4 games in a row. The other was towards the end of the season in February and onto March where he went another four games earning points which ended up totalling 19 points.

His worst points total coincided with PSG’s dismal poor form at the end of the season when they had virtually wrapped up the league title. He went the last four games of the season earning in just one game and letting slip -6 points in the other three games. His worst tally in one game ended up being against Lille when the team in 2nd place upset PSG at home and won 5-1, earning Silva -4 points.

Silva looks set to stay at PSG as it was announced before the end of the season that he and his family had been confirmed as French citizens- and that can only be a benefit for French football and PSG. He also earned one more point this past season than the season before.

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Top Ligue 1 Goalkeepers in 2018/19: Alphonse Areola

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At the start of the season PSG’s number 1 goalkeeper Alphonse Areola would have taken a look around and gulped nervously a little when he saw that his club had just brought in Gianluigi Buffon from Juventus. While Buffon was 40 years old he is still regarded as a goalkeeping legend and as it turned out Areola had every right to be worried.

True Areola started the majority of games in the league for PSG but only just. Areola played 21 games to Buffon’s 17. Still the return was very good from Areola who produced 11 clean sheets from his 21 played.

In terms of a successful season, it can’t get much better as PSG won the league with ease, and in theory started to wrap up the title by the Christmas period. They finished on 91 points a cool 16 points in front of Lille and it would have been much more had the team not faltered towards the end once the league was wrapped up.

Areola’s value coming into this season was 6.5m and he finished 3rd in the European Fantasy League rankings for Ligue 1 goalkeepers, 29 points behind Nice’s Walter Benitez. Areola finished on 62 points and conceded 17 goals, his disciplinary was excellent with just 1 yellow card all season.

Areola did not start scoring points until his 3rd game of the season because PSG even though they won his first two games they kept conceding. His fortunes swiftly changed though and he went on a 5 game run without conceding a goal starting against Saint Etienne in mid September and running through until mid November. He earned a huge 35 points in that period where the bulk of his total points came from.

His worst game of the season was when PSG needed just 1 more win to secure the Ligue 1 title. Of course because of their massive lead in the league it was only a matter of time but it simply wasn’t coming. PSG had to play 2nd placed Lille away and Lille were up for a game that PSG didn’t really need to win, in the end and with full credit to Lille they inflicted PSG’s biggest loss of the season beating the champions 5-1. This in turn meant that Areola record -8 points for the game.

Just under 30% of his games ended where he didn’t score a point and his last game was the penultimate match of the season against Dijon where PSG ran out 4-0 winners and for that he got 7 points. He did not play in PSG’s final game of the season against Reims where Buffon was chosen instead, in a game that PSG eventually lost.

In the 2017/18 season Areola scored 103 points so this is a comedown for the goalkeeper although he will argue and rightly so that he wasn’t given enough games to prove his worth. Next season will be interesting. Will PSG stay with him in goal as their number 1 or will they opt to invest in another player?

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Top Ligue 1 Strikers In 2018/19: Nicolas Pepe

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You only have to look at the latest transfer stories to see that Nicolas Pepe is heading the way in terms of young brilliant players being linked to some of the biggest clubs in the world, and this should sum up the season Pepe has just had for Lille.

Pepe starred up front in a season that saw Lille finish in 2nd place to PSG and qualify automatically for next seasons Champions League.

Only two strikers in Ligue 1 were able to achieve 100 points in European Fantasy League, Kylian Mbappe and Pepe. Pepe scored 22 goals and assisted in another 11 meaning that he was involved in 33 goals for Lille this season out of their total of 68 goals, that’s almost 50%.

Pepe is 24 and did not show the promise of a player like Mbappe early on but his move to Lille in 2017 meant that he got to work with coach Christophe Galtier who also joined the club then and the two of them have connected in a way where Pepe respects Galtier and Galtier can see where Pepe’s game needed to be improved. Think of when Arsene Wenger converted Thierry Henry from a winger to a centre forward- and the rest is history.

Pepe started the season by scoring a goal and making an assist as Lille won their first game of the campaign 3-1 against Rennes. His best points tally came in September when Lille beat Amiens 3-2 away from home and he scored a hat-trick which also earned him 2 bonus points and he collected 14 points from one game.

Between early February and early March Pepe scored zero points from 4 games and it is evident that the one problem with his season is that the second half was not as strong as the first. From his last 15 games he only scored points in 5 of those, still because of a strong start that was good enough to amass 109 points for the season.

Pepe made a huge impact this season and finished in 5th place for strikers in the major league which is a massive improvement on previous years. Take the season before where Pepe finished on 55 points scoring 13 goals. He has managed 9 more this season and the sky looks the limit for a player who some would have thought missed the boat in his early years.

Pepe started the season with a value of 8m if you wanted him for your team. Whether the future lies with Lille or elsewhere his value is sure to go up next season. The good news is with Lille in the Champions League which is a rare sight for the club Pepe may just be tempted to stay with them.

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Top Ligue 1 Goalkeepers in 2018/19: Mike Maignan

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What has been PSG’s loss has been Lille’s gain and if anything is to be said of this season it’s that Mike Maignan has a bright future ahead of him.

The 23 year old from French Guiana has been superb this season and at one point it looked like he would be PSG’s number 1 goalkeeper. Coming up through their ranks he was instead overlooked as PSG spent big money dispensing with youth and Lille took the player under their wings, first in the B team and now the senior. He has been Lille’s first choice goalkeeper for the last 3 seasons, but has really broken through in the last two.

In the Ligue 1 football fantasy rankings Maignan finished in 2nd place with 84 points and just 7 shy of first place held by Walter Benitez. His value for this season was just 5m and that is sure to rise for the beginning of next season.

Lille of course had a successful season and while they did not win any trophies they finished 2nd and runner up to PSG which was no mean feat with Lyon chasing them until the final weeks of the season. In Ligue 1 only the first two places are guaranteed a Champions League group stage place with 3rd having to play in a qualifying round, so it was important for Lille to finish 2nd and now they have automatically qualified for Europe’s greatest prize.

Maignan was a huge part of this Lille side as he kept an impressive 15 clean sheets during the season. His overall ranking with all players would be 44th but his overall ranking with all goalkeepers in the major leagues would be an impressive 8th, that’s great going for such a young goalkeeper.

Maignan had many good highlights of the season, gaining what has become the maximum points for a goalkeeper unless they score a goal by achieving 7 points. One of his best periods was the final 16 games of the season when Lille and Lyon were battling each other in a Champions League run in that saw Maignan keep 9 clean sheets from the last 16 games.

With Maignan in such great form towards the end of the season it was ironic that on the very final game he earned the least points of his entire season as Lille lost 3-1 to Rennes and he ended up with -4 points.

It wasn’t all easy going for Maignan whose worst month was January when he earned 0 points but he was able to bounce back and in the end Walter Benitez and Mike Maignan were head and shoulders above any other goalkeeper in Ligue 1.

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Top Ligue 1 Defenders in 2018/19: Jose Fonte

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When we think of some of the best defenders in Ligue 1, we may think of the likes of Dani Alves at champions PSG or his team mate Marquinhos who have already underlined their status as great tacklers of the game in the modern era. But neither of those players came out on top in the Fantasy Football rankings in Ligue 1- that honour went to a Lille player by the name of Jose Fonte.

Fonte is not young at 35 but has had a superb season with Lille who ended up finishing runners up to inevitable champions PSG this season. Fonte has been around and played for no less than 11 different teams, having spells in his native Portugal and playing for clubs such as Benfica, Southampton, Crystal Palace and West Ham.

Fonte moved to Lille last summer and coming out on top as the best defender in France is no mean feat in his debut year. Fonte scored 3 goals for the club this season and assisted in 1 goal but Fonte was never bought to be scoring goals and he has proved over this year his qualities as a defender in his preferred position as a centre back. This has included helping to keep 15 clean sheets as Lille won 22 of their 38 games.

If he was in your team then you certainly reaped the awards of only having to pay 7.5m for his services and he has turned out to be a fantastic bargain. Even by sole position in major leagues for defenders he would rank 16th so his purchase was good value for money.

Fonte had already earned 9 points within the first two weeks when Lille drew 0-0 against Monaco and then beat Guingamp 3-0. Indeed in Lille’s first 7 games of the season Fonte managed to help his side keep five clean sheets.

The defender’s best point of the season came in matchday 5 when Lille beat Nantes 2-1, he scored a rare goal but also assisted in another to gain 6 points. What was interesting about Fonte’s points this season is that he never had one major outstanding points total instead it was garnered bit by bit and what that showed was consistency. Fonte finished the season with a total points haul of 73 beating second placed Malang Sarr of Nice by 3 points. Only 3 defenders ended the Ligue 1 season with 70 or more points which underlines his achievements this season.

Fonte signed a 2 year contract and with Lille making the Champions League for next season he is sure to be in the amongst the back four come the start of the season. The question will be if the player the wrong side of 30 can have another solid season, for now the Portuguese seems like a massive asset for the club.

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Top Ligue 1 Goalkeepers in 2018/19: Walter Benitez

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Nice may have finished 7th and a huge 35 points adrift of champions PSG but they still had the best goalkeeper statistically in the league in 26 year old Walter Benitez. The Argentinian is still very much unknown so much so that he has never played for the senior national side and if you go to his Wikipedia page you get the following: ‘Walter Daniel Benítez is an Argentine footballer who plays as a goalkeeper for Nice’. That is all the information on the world’s leading encyclopaedia on the internet.

And yet Benitez has been outstanding for Nice this season who just missed out on a European spot under coach Patrick Vieira who is in his debut season with the club in Ligue 1.

Benitez finished top of the Fantasy Football rankings in Ligue 1 with 91 points, 7 more than Mike Maignan of Lille and interestingly 29 points more than PSG’s Alphonse Areola. Benitez kept 16 clean sheets the most for any goalkeeper in Ligue 1 and had a superb period in the season which we must talk about.

It started against Amiens in November when Nice beat them 1-0, and it was to be a superb run of games for Benitez where he went the next 5 games without conceding one goal. It was at this time that the 26 year old started to garner attention from other teams and then other leagues including the Premier League. It is true to say that Benitez’s performances this season are like a catch 22 for a club like Nice. Good in the fact that he has undoubtedly won the club many points 10-15 at least but at the same time bad in the fact that they will almost certainly have to sell him at one point and that could be as early as this summer.

Overall Benitez ranks as the 6th best goalkeeper in Europe’s major leagues this past season. If you had Benitez in your fantasy team then you would have picked up a bargain as he is just 6.5m. He is sure to rise next season. There is little doubt that he is arguably one of the most underrated goalkeepers playing in Europe today.

Benitez has impressed Vieira and has been one of the real breakthrough talents in Ligue 1 even with his age in consideration. His benefit is that in his position he can be a goalkeeper easily for another 10 years.

Surely after this season and being ranked No.1. in the Ligue 1 Fantasy Football rankings he will get his break to be the number 1 choice for the Argentina national team. He recently said that getting the chance would be like touching the sky, but surely that will simply be the beginning for him, the sky in his case will not be the limit.

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Ligue 1: Week 38: Player Picks for the Weekend

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Almost everything has been settled in Ligue 1, we know the champions, the teams who will participate in the Champions League and Europa League. The only real football up for debate is who will be the final team to be relegated and/or have to play in a play-off with a Ligue 2 side, which is what the team finishing in 18th place will have to do.

That battle is between Caen and Amiens, and Amiens has a 2 point advantage over Caen. Monaco could still finish in the bottom three but that looks very distant and they should be safe, however they will have a tough final game as it is the derby v Nice.

Below we pick out 11 players in a formation of 4-4-2 who could pick up points at the weekend in the final games of the Ligue 1 season.

Goalkeeper: Brice Samba-Caen

Brice Samba has kept 3 clean sheets in the past five games for Caen who need to beat Bordeaux to have a chance to stay up. Bordeaux have been very poor and Caen are at home. Samba is only 3m to buy which is fantastic value.

Defender: Alexander Djiku- Caen

Staying with Caen Djiku has played the most games for the club in defence and even though he has a poor points tally, and the club let in 4 goals v Lyon in their last game. It is this one that counts. Caen will be favourites to beat Bordeaux and Djiku could keep another clean sheet. He is valued at 7m.

Defender: Diego Carlos- Nantes

Diego Carlos has been Nantes best defender stats wise and has 23 points. He is valued at 6m. Nantes will play their last game of the season at home and they will host Strasbourg, for us this is a home win and Nantes also have a good chance to keep a clean sheet.

Defender: Mathieu Debuchy- Saint Etienne

Saint Etienne celebrated Europa League qualification as they sealed fourth place last weekend. They will play Angers away and this could be a low scoring game or at least a win for the away side. Debuchy could pick up points for a clean sheet, but he also likes to come forward for the Verts and scores too. He can be bought for 7.5m.

Defender: Wesley Lautoa- Dijon

Dijon are still not down and if they win at the weekend and Caen do not get the right result they could finish 18th and have the play off. Dijon have conceded goals lately but they will play Toulouse at the weekend a side who are in general poor. Plus Lautoa costs just 3m and this could be a steal.

Midfielder: Remi Oudin- Reims

Reims will play PSG and they will be the underdogs to win. But at the same time Reims have been able to surprise them in recent years and will want to give a good performance with their final home game of the season. Oudin has scored 10 goals which makes him a dangerous player and he is valued at 10m.

Midfielder: Florian Thauvin- Marseille

Florian Thauvin is one of the best players in the league and he loves to get forward and score goals. He won the player of the weekend this past weekend. But he has just 4 goals in 2019, he will be determined to add more like he was in the last game when he scored a brace. Thauvin has 89 points and would cost 11m.

Midfielder: Valentin Rongier- Nantes

Rongier has had a great second half to the season much like his club Nantes. They play at home against Strasbourg and will be the favourites to win the match. Rongier has scored 4 goals and assisted in 5 so there is points in him and he is valued at 4.5m.

Midfielder: Jordan Ferri- Nimes

Picking Jordan Ferri is all about value and he is just 3m to bring into your team. Yes Nimes will play Lyon at the weekend but they will be at home and Lyon will feel more relaxed given that they have secured 3rd place. Nimes have played some good football and have goals in them.

Striker: M’baye Niang- Rennes

Rennes will be at home in their final game and will play on form Lille. But this pick is based on scoring goals and Niang will be a constant threat. He has scored 9 goals and assisted in another four and he could be a shrewd pick at just 4.5m.

Striker: Gaetan Laborde- Montpellier

Gaetan Laborde has had a decent season and while Montpellier will be away to Marseille this is a game where anything can happen and we expect to see lots of chances and goals for both sides. Laborde has every chance to get on the end of something and he is valued at 5m, he has scored 11 goals this season.

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Top 4 all win in Ligue 1 as relegation battle boils down to Caen and Amiens

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That was more like it from PSG who have been a shadow of themselves since winning the league in April. They beat Dijon 4-0 which included a brace from Kylian Mbappe who ends the season as top goal scorer. Perhaps the real story was that PSG were 2-0 up within the first ten minutes and Edinson Cavani scored. It looks increasingly likely that Cavani will leave the club in the summer and if so, then this is his last match in Paris. He crowned it well.

Neymar was missing as he has been suspended for the last 2 games of the season and of course there is speculation that he will not be at PSG next season. Lille finally confirmed 2nd place and the runners-up spot with a fantastic 5-0 win over Angers and yet again Nicolas Pepe starred for the team and scored a couple of goals. Like others Pepe’s name is now being talked about, could he make a Premier League move next season?

Lyon confirmed 3rd place and the final Champions League spot, although they will have to qualify for the competition proper. They beat Caen 4-0 which was significant given that Caen are fighting relegation. It is now between Caen and Amiens to see who stays up as Monaco look safe. Amiens have a 2 point advantage over Caen.

Saint Etienne won with a great 3-0 victory over Nice to confirm their Europa League participation next season. They have pulled 5 points clear of fifth place, and the European spot was well deserved after such brilliant form especially in the second half of the season.

Montpellier’s draw with Nantes ended their slim hopes of European football next season and the result also let in Marseille who have closed the gap over them to just 1 point. That is because Marseille beat Toulouse in a thrilling match that ended 5-2 to the L’OM. The score was 3-2 in the 90th minute but Florian Thauvin scored 2 goals in a matter of 60 seconds to give the final score more of a gloss.

Nimes drew 2-2 against bottom team Guingamp, but this wasn’t seen as a disappointing result given that both teams were not playing for anything and the season has clearly wound down and both sets of players enjoyed the game, which was entertaining for the fans. Nimes will have to win next weekend or could lose their 7th place to Nice, and as mentioned before Nice’s good form went out the window with a 0-3 loss at Saint Etienne.

If Reims win their last game and Nice and Nimes lose the club could leapfrog both of them. The final round of games will take place this weekend.

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