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Pepe’s AFCON form can earn him a run at ‘False Nine’ for Arsenal

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Pepe celebrate his goal Algeria

Despite being initially left out of Cote D’Ivoire’s opener at the AFCON, Nicholas Pepe, has since set the tournament alight with an assist and two magnificent goals to help his country into the knockout phase. His display against one of the pre-tournament favourites, Algeria, with an intelligent assist for Kessie and a wonderfully struck solo goal, grabbed Arsenal fans’ attention. Even more so now perhaps with Lacazette labouring, Aubameyang out of favour, Nketiah flattering to deceive and the chase of Vlahovic dragging on.

Pepe v Algeria

Despite an admirable display on New Years Day, Arteta’s Arsenal are struggling for goals, and being kept out last night by Burnley was a stark illustration. As I drove home from the match, my mind wandered to Pepe, his form for his country and how the Ivorian might be able to spark his team on his return. The re-emergence of Martinelli, who for me, is rotational for rest, but not droppable, Pepe has seen little club action, but we have heard few complaints from the club’s record signing.

This morning I returned to my musings and decided to endeavour to articulate my thoughts and they revolve around whether Arteta could reconsider utilising a ‘False Nine’ at Arsenal and if the forgotten man might fulfil the role. Before exploring this perhaps a quick summation of the role courtesy of this superb article on Coaches Voice:

What is a false nine?
A false nine is a centre-forward who repeatedly moves towards the ball in deeper positions from a high starting position, often dropping to receive centrally. The main intention is to get on the ball away from the opposition centre-backs – and, in doing so, to draw players out of position and disrupt the defence.

Of course, there are many aspects to the role but the dropping deeper to collect the ball aspect is vital and we all know Lacazette does this superbly. However, as the article continues and further elaborates, we may reveal why the Frenchman is not an option as a true False Nine:

It is also important for a false nine to be versatile and possess on-the-ball skills such as quick turning, dribbling and playing through balls. That said, finishing – often under significant defensive pressure from a variety of angles – is still an important part of the role. Given a false nine will often have to catch play up again after coming deep to link, they also have to be adept at making quick, late runs into the penalty area before finishing first time.

It is here that I begin to think on the attributes and strengths of Pepe, which are in truth weaknesses for Lacazette. Pepe, we all know, can finish under pressure and has the stamina and pace to catch up the play, having dropped deep, which is a major failing for our French No.9.

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No threat to Burnley at all

What I felt was obvious and painful against Burnley was that when our striker did drop deep to collect the ball between the lines, neither Mee nor Tarkowski felt the need to follow him. In short, they were not concerned that Lacazette attacking them from a deeper position could hurt them, either with a shot or pass. In addition, Martinelli was staying wide and not coming central to add to the threat. However, were Pepe playing there as a False Nine, dropping deep to collect the ball and turning to run at the Burnley defence, you can bet you bottom dollar one of the Burnley centre backs would have been drawn out. They would know and see Pepe with ball at feet facing goal, outside the penalty area as a threat, whether he dribbled or shot.

If Arsenal cannot secure Vlahovic, or as now rumoured, Isak and Arteta is unwilling to re-integrate Aubameyang, perhaps he could do worse than try Nicolas Pepe centrally. Particular has the Ivorian is on a longer contract with a point to prove, unlike Lacazette and Nketiah who quite obviously are not Arsenal’s future. When the False Nine role is played well it does need wide men willing to move centrally when the player in the role drops in between the lines to receive the ball and turn towards goal, If the FN has drawn a centre back with him and bypassed him, it is crucial that our wide players are willing to come into central areas. Surely both Martinelli and Saka, and indeed Smith Rowe have all proved what they can do when in scoring positions.

Whilst by no means comparing us to Man City, who have multiple players seemingly able to fill the FN role, perhaps if Edu & Co cannot conjure a proper striker for the 4231 in this window, Arteta might consider this option. He has tried it with Willian twice last season, in Europe as I recall, but surely a confident and ebullient Pepe, fresh from a strong showing at the AFCON, might be a superior candidate?

Certainly, the Ivorian has frustrated us when hugging the right touchline, but he has seldom done so when picking up the ball centrally, in a position to run at the defence or fashion and angle for his lethal left foot. Is now the time to make that his fulltime job Mikel?

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One Response to Pepe’s AFCON form can earn him a run at ‘False Nine’ for Arsenal

  1. Jimmy B January 24, 2022 at 6:13 pm #

    Great piece. I hope Pepe comes good. I like the kid.

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