Premier League: Player of the Week: Nicolas Pepe

It has been a slow start for Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe who was being thought of as the next best player to come from Ligue 1 football. Pepe had just completed a brilliant season with Lille, who had finished 2nd in the French league to inevitable champions PSG. To further that Pepe had scored 22 goals in the league and was a major reason that Lille qualified for this seasons Champions League. Despite qualification Pepe chose to join Arsenal in a deal that cost the Premier League club £72m.

This past weekend Pepe showed the best side of his game, something that Arsenal fans had been waiting for since August. Arsenal beat Newcastle 4-0, a rare result for the Gunners this season given that they have drawn 13 games and have only won 7 games so far. But this was more than a result, it seemed like a statement, even if the club had only really started playing in the 2nd half, given that the match was all square at 0-0 in the first.

Pepe was given the man of the match after a dazzling spectacle that all kicked off in the 54th minute when he set up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Arsenal’s first goal. Two minutes later Pepe himself was making it 2-0, and it was crucial not just to get the second goal but the fact it came so close after the first, Arsenal were going to triumph here and Newcastle had just been shocked into submission.

Pepe then assisted Alexandre Lacazette when the game was at 3-0 to the home side and Lacazette duly obliged by making it 4-0 in the fifth minute of injury time. It was a great result for Arsenal but a fantastic display by Pepe.

The Ivory Coast international earned 8 points at the weekend, the most of any player in the Premier League, even with reduced fixtures given that there was a winter break on.

So far Pepe has a total of 21 points and is valued at 8m, if he starts his form now that could be a great price as Arsenal try to recover their season from 10th place. The attacking winger has scored 4 goals so far and assisted in a further four and has received 3 yellow cards.

Maybe Pepe’s career with Arsenal has started slow, one remembers though the same applied to both Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry and they ended up being club legends. Also in the fantasy rankings Pepe is the 3rd best Arsenal player of the season so far but is more than double the points behind Aubameyang.

Something says that Pepe is going to get better and better this season,and the Gunners next game will be at home to Everton at the weekend who lie just in front of them in 9th position.

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Premier League: Best 11 Players of the Weekend

Because of the winter break in the Premier League there were just 5 games played at the weekend. All of the favourites won their games including Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool. But let’s take a look at the players who made a difference this past weekend in the Premier League.

Formation: 4-4-2

Goalkeeper: Kasper Schmeichel- Leicester 7pts

A few goalkeepers earned 7 points but Kasper Schmeichel deserves credit as his Leicester side went away from home against a very difficult Wolves side and got a point, keeping a clean sheet too as the game ended 0-0. That was the goalkeepers 9th clean sheet of the season.

Defender: Romain Saiss- Wolves 5pts

It’s no mean feat to keep Jamie Vardy and co from scoring a goal and Saiss helped his side Wolves keep a clean sheet at home against the team in 3rd place. Saiss has 17 points this season.

Defender: Trent-Alexander Arnold- Liverpool 5pts

On fantasy ranking points Alexander Arnold is the best defender in the Premier League and he showed his qualities again as Liverpool beat Norwich 1-0 away from home to record his 12th clean sheet of the season.

Defender: Virgil van Dijk- Liverpool 5pts

His teammate van Dijk and recognised as one of the worlds best defenders also helped keep a clean sheet and the player now has 74 points in the fantasy rankings and is just 9 behind his team mate in 2nd place.

Defender: Wes Morgan -Leicester 5pts

Wes Morgan had a lot to do in the back four of Leicester as Wolves who were at home asked many questions of the Foxes. Morgan held his ground well and earned 5 points in the process.

Midfielder: Mesut Ozil- Arsenal 6pts

Ozil has been under pressure for the past two seasons for his performances, but against Newcastle he was on the ball. Not only did his side keep a clean sheet but he also scored a goal, his first of the season in the league.

Midfielder: Sadio Mane- Liverpool 5pts

Sadio Mane showed his qualities coming on late in the game v Norwich and ended up scoring the winner- a classy finish too. He dropped a point because he was booked in the final minute though.

Midfielder: Jordan Henderson-Liverpool 4pts

It should come as no surprise to see Henderson’s name on the team of the weekend yet again. He earned 4 points after a solid, professional display as Liverpool continued their unbeaten run this season with a 1-0 win over Norwich.

Midfielder: Lucas Torreira- Arsenal 2pts

It was rare joy for Arsenal and Torreira to win a game, and so many defenders ended the weekend with 2 points. Torreira deserves his place after a tormented time this season with Arsenal, he held firm and didn’t give Newcastle a look in.

Striker: Nicolas Pepe- Arsenal 8pts

Nicolas Pepe has been criticised this season as he has started his career with Arsenal very slow. But at the weekend he was on top form and earned 8 points after he scored a goal and he also assisted in the opening goal. In 240 seconds he showed why Arsenal had paid over £70m for him.

Striker: Heung-Min Son- Tottenham 6pts

If Tottenham are to finish in a Champions League place a large chunk of that could go to the fact that in Son they have a great striker. He scored 2 goals as Tottenham beat Aston Villa in a thrilling 3-2 win. He now has 9 goals for the season and looks in brilliant form.

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Has the 4-0 victory over Newcastle green lit Arsenal’s season?

There are always turning points good and bad in football and one senses that Arsenal’s 4-0 win over Newcastle United at the weekend could just be the turning point that Arsenal have been looking for all season.

Arsenal don’t win games 4-0 anymore, in fact they don’t win many games at all. Currently they have 13 draws and this game against the Magpies looked like it would be number 14- and that was if they were lucky.

In truth it was a first half mostly dominated by the away team, who created very good chances and the likes of Allan Saint-Maximin and Joelinton looked very lively. Arsenal looked confused at home and woeful. The first half ended 0-0 and never felt not for one moment that Arsenal would score 4 goals in the second half. But they did.

A lot of that is down to manager Mikel Arteta’s half time talk, and it was interesting how he was able to identify the clubs positives and Newcastle’s weaknesses. Arsenal came out firing on all cylinders and it was the chasing down of the ball and the intensity that they showed right off the bat that won the game for them. Indeed they had started the match this way, and then were huffing and puffing with no ideas after five minutes. But the club in the second half looked a completely different side.

The Gunners are so very lucky to have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as a striker- how many times has he got the club out of trouble when the chips have been down? And they have been down for so long. But Aubameyang keeps scoring and keeps hoping and he opened the scoring 9 minutes after the re start. When Nicolas Pepe scored the 2nd goal, three minutes later the game was over, Newcastle’s hearts had left the stadium.

It’s true that goals number 3 and 4 put a shine over a game that felt like a 2-0 victory but at the end of the day goals and wins bring confidence to a team. That was only Arteta’s 2nd win in 8 games, although he has only lost one so far.

The question now being posed is is this the beginning of a strong run for Arsenal now, who could still claim a good position. After Manchester City were banned by UEFA in participating in the Champions League, 5th place would now be up for grabs, pending their appeal. If so Arsenal are only six points from that target. With clubs ranked 4th-9th not being consistent enough, Arsenal really could make a charge and a statement and what a comeback it would for the club who have remained around 10th place for much of the season.

What is interesting is taking a look at the clubs upcoming fixtures. Their next game will be tough but they will be at home to Everton. They then have another home match against West Ham. There are trips to both Brighton and Southampton followed by a home match against Norwich and a trip to Wolves before returning home to face Leicester. All of those games look like Arsenal could get points in. Their biggest problem is projecting their home form over to their away form, where they have really struggled not just this season but for the past 3 at least.

Take out the Leicester game though and Arsenal won’t face a top 6 side until the end of April when they play Tottenham away. In May they will play Liverpool, but again all of their opponents now will not be classed as the biggest teams in the league. Still Arsenal have struggled against them anyway this season.

But surely scoring 4 goals in one game has given the club a lift and taken away that dark cloud that has hung over the Emirates since August. Is this the moment that Arteta makes a name for himself and the talented Arsenal players step up to the plate, or was it just a convenient speed bump on the road to a mediocre season?

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Without Aubameyang Arsenal look like a very ordinary team

When Paul Tierney produced the red card which sent off Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang last weekend, Arsenal hearts would have sunk. The former Borussia Dortmund player has been far and away the most influential figure at the club in what has become a difficult couple of seasons for the Gunners.

When Aubameyang plays he usually scores and when he scores Arsenal usually walk away with points.

The challenge was a red card indeed, a foot above the players ankle and there is little doubt that Tierney gave the correct decision. With it being a straight red card it means that Aubameyang will miss 3 games in a row for the club. That starts this weekend when Arsenal take on Sheffield United at home. Aubameyang will also miss the game away to Chelsea at the end of the month and the 4th FA Cup tie at Bournemouth.

Aubameyang has been on so many occasions Arsenal’s one bright light, a genuine star for a club that used to have 11 on the pitch. This season he has scored 14 goals just under 50% of all of Arsenal’s league goals. He is on course to beat his personal league best of 22 goals which he recorded last season and in all competitions he has 57 goals from 91 appearances. A great return.

One could wonder where Arsenal would be in the league without the player and without his goals? Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe have not cut it in terms of goals and it’s fair to say without Aubameyang’s contribution Arsenal could well have 10 points less. If this was the case then the Gunners would be in the bottom three.

Mikel Arteta the Arsenal manager was right to say that his players need to step up in reference of Aubameyang missing. The former Arsenal player said: “Players have to step up. You know, when one of your big players is not there, they have to take responsibility. I’m sure when they’re not playing, they want a chance and they talk. It’s time to talk on the pitch, not outside. You come on there, you make the impact that he made and you sure me that you are as good as him or even better. You have the chance.

These were strong and direct words from Arteta who will surely be feeling the pressure after 1 win in his four games in charge of the Gunners, he went on to say. “It’s a big shame and a big loss for us, because as well we know Auba’s intention when he plays. But unfortunately he mistimed the tackle, he made a decision and we have to accept it. Auba has been around, he was very sad after the game. He was disappointed that he left the team with 10 men. It’s an action that is completely accidental in my opinion.”

How will Arsenal fare without the deadly striker? Could it yet be a blessing in disguise as the team are forced to make tactical changes, or will the misery for the club this season deepen? This weekend when they play Sheffield United at the Emirates will reveal that answer.

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Arsenal beat West Ham but there are bigger tests ahead for Ljungberg

Arsenal finally won in the Premier League for the first time in 10 matches (for most fans it has felt like 10 years) after they came back and beat West Ham on Monday night.

It was a great victory for the Gunners and it was caretaker manager Freddie Ljungberg’s first win in his new role in his third match after Unai Emery was sacked. What was so gratifying was that Arsenal went in at half time 1-0 down and were yet again booed by their fans. But in the second half the tide swayed and West Ham were exposed for the poor side that they have become and Arsenal won 3-1.

There were personal victories also for the likes of Mesut Ozil who showed why he was once hailed as one of the best players in Europe. And then there was Nicolas Pepe who has been mostly quiet this season after his £72m switch from Lille. But he scored from open play- his first for Arsenal and the Gunners ended the night on a rare high.

Arsenal have now climbed to 9th place and are 7 points adrift of 4th placed Chelsea, whilst that is still a gap, it doesn’t seem like an impossible one to fill. As for West Ham the defeat has left them down in 16th place and they are just 1 point from the bottom three after losing 4 of their last five games.

This was a massive victory for Arsenal because from the last 10 games they had only picked up 11 points. The question now is, will this victory be a turning point in Arsenal’s season, or is it just a small speed bump in the road?

It’s so important now that Ljungberg and Arsenal can go from this result and build on it but the Gunners have quite a few tests coming up this month. It all starts later this week when the club take on Standard Liege away from home and they will need a win there to be certain of qualifying for the Europa League knock outs. The week has started off well but if it ends with the club out of Europe, this West Ham victory will be soon forgotten.

On Sunday is the big match- at home against Manchester City. Whilst City look out of the league title now being 14 points behind Liverpool, any dropped points here would certainly confirm that. The statement in beating City though would be massive for Arsenal and could signal an official recovery. After that game Arsenal have two tricky away encounters to Everton and Bournemouth. The Gunners finish the year off with a London derby at home against Chelsea.

Then there is New Years Day when Arsenal will take on Manchester United at the Emirates. This is a big month then for Arsenal and it will be very interesting to see if the club can build on this victory over their London neighbours. What they won’t be able to do is keep their eyes off the ball.

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Top 5 Premier League flops in 2019/20

The Premier League has been able to bring in some of the very best players over the years. With buckets full of money through television deals improving your team hasn’t been that hard, but that doesn’t mean there have been some poor buys when clubs have previously thought that they have either got a bargain or spent a small fortune of what they believe to be the next best youngster.

This season alone makes no exceptions. Below we have a top 5 list of the biggest flops in the Premier League so far. True these same flops could end up being amongst the very best players come the end of the season, but with all justification all of these players have hardly got off to the starts that their clubs would have wanted. Yes it is early in the season but let’s not forget we are almost at a third of the way through.

Moise Kean- Everton

Moise Kean cost Everton £25m and that seemed like a bargain. Kean who was playing for Juventus at the time has been seen as Italy’s next best striker. He is 19, quick, versatile and very confident. Once it looked like Juventus had wrapped up last seasons Serie A title he got his chance in the team and came in and couldn’t stop scoring goals. He scored 6 from his 13 games in the league. Everton were quick off the mark to get him, but he has been a shadow of the player that graced Juventus. From his 9 games so far in the league he has yet to score, and has been some what of a disappointment.

It has got to the stage now where Marco Silva, the Everton manager has been starting him from the bench. Obviously the change of country and culture has not been easy on the player and let’s admit he is still only 19, he probably has a bright future ahead of him. For now Everton looked to have overspent and what will Kean be realistically thinking? One day training with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, the next can’t start a game at Everton.

Pablo Fornals- West Ham

A lot was expected of Pablo Fornals whose silky attacking play was supposed to make West Ham a better team going forward. But he has been very quiet, and is now enjoying more time warming the bench. Fornals has never scored many goals but in his role as an attacking midfielder he is supposed to supply them. Fornals is yet to score in the league but did do so in the Carabao Cup. Costing £24m from Spanish side Villarreal Fornals has been a big disappointment so far, he simply doesn’t seem settled with the pace of the game and looks at this point to be too predictable. He is West Ham’s 2nd ever most expensive signing.

Nicolas Pepe- Arsenal

Nicolas Pepe was incredible last season for French Ligue 1 side Lille, his 22 goals from 38 games helped greatly in Lille upsetting the odds and finishing as runners up to PSG thus qualifying for the Champions League.

It was first a surprise that Pepe did not opt to stay with Lille on their European adventure instead choosing Arsenal who are playing in the Europa League this season. But of course the lure of playing for a famed club in the Premier League and a better salary was enough for the player. Here’s the thing though, Pepe has scored just once in his 9 league games. Possibly we can point to the fact that Pepe does not start every game and also Arsenal manager Unai Emery hasn’t always been using the player as a classic centre forward, they have Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang for that. But when he isn’t scoring goals one has to wonder who will for the Gunners?

It’s not all bad for Pepe, he has shown flashes of his brilliance and has scored a few goals in the clubs Europa League campaign. But at a cost of £72m it’s fair to say that the Gunners would have expected a little more from the player.

Harry Maguire- Manchester United

Harry Maguire was so good for Leicester at the back that he has become an England international and had a very good World Cup tournament last summer. This led Manchester United to go big on the defender and splash out £80m on him. But the magic simply hasn’t clicked. United were very leaky before Maguire joined and remain that way. Even when they rarely win games these days they keep on conceding. Maguire has been a very solid player and knows how to score goals from set pieces, inevitably he is going to become better and feel more fitted in at his role with the Red Devils. For now the club are going to suffer a little before that happens.

The big question mark is the initial fee. How can any player cost so much when they have won zero trophies? Of course the fee isn’t Maguire’s fault at all, that’s what it takes for an English international in the Premier League to join another team in the same league. The pressure is on Maguire though to establish himself within the team, for now it almost feels like he is hiding.

Tanguy Ndombele- Tottenham

When you think of how far Tottenham have come in the last few seasons, it makes how they have started this one mind boggling. They didn’t lose any key players in the summer and yet seem to have returned to a mid 1990s version of themselves. They will get better of course, this is the Champions League finalists from last season, but for now they have quite a few problems on their hands.

Famous now for not spending big money in transfer windows, they spent almost £60m acquiring the signature of Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon. This felt like a strange decision, given that Ndombele who had had a decent season for the Ligue 1 side clearly wasn’t even their best midfielder last season. However trust had to be put into Mauricio Pochettino, that’s who he wanted and that is who he was going to get. Ndombele has scored a couple of goals and made an assist and that isn’t too bad, but again much more was expected of him, he needed to be the glue that sets the quickest in this very talented team of players. It might still happen, for now there has to be question marks over whether Lyon saw Tottenham coming with that fee.

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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.

Three players to solve Liverpool’s forward problem this summer

Jurgen Klopp Liverpool transfer window

Suggesting that Liverpool have a problem with their forwards is a little disingenuous given they don’t. Liverpool’s forward three is among the best in Europe. Roberto Firmino is the best false nine around, and Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are both world-class wingers.

Their respective goal tallies over the last two years stand as a testament to that. Even when Salah is supposed to be having a bad season, as some will tell you this year was, he still finished as the joint top scorer in the Premier League.

Every club in world football would take these three players without a moment’s hesitation. That includes all of the ‘elite’ sides and every single one of Liverpool’s rivals. Indeed, Real Madrid have been linked with both Mane and Salah this summer. Continue reading

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 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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