Pepe remains a work in progress
Costing Arsenal a total of £72m, we’ve yet to see any signs of Nicolas Pepe living up to his eye-watering transfer fee. Much was made of the Ivorian upon his arrival at the Emirates. He’d scored 24 goals in one season for Lille, they said. He’s quick. He’s a superb dribbler of the ball, capable of ghosting past defenders with ease.
In reality, though, Pepe remains a work in progress. Acclimatising to English football has proven tricky – and today was another reminder of the forward’s teething problems. Although he showed his ability in reading the game and finding the space, the final product was missing.
He is a man who constantly seems to be on the verge of losing control, fumbling his way forward as he goes, throwing out erratic, unwieldy legs in the hope of bamboozling his opponents, only to trip over himself or concede possession. The potential is there but Arteta will know he has other options at his disposal.
Arsenal learn the value of patience
Mikel Arteta’s influence, via the teachings of Pep Guardiola, is certainly paying off, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal the product of an 18-pass build-up. It was controlled, patient and incisive. Whereas in the past Arsenal have attempted to force play, on this instance Arteta’s men knew precisely when to pull the trigger, with David Luiz making the penetrative pass forward that kicked the goal into motion. It ended with a simple slip-through by Alexandre Lacazette for Aubamyeang to finish off from seven yards out. If the Gunners can continue to score goals like these, the second half of their season offers plenty of promise.
VAR gets it right – for once
Any game isn’t complete without the intervention of VAR – and today was no different. In this instance, it wasn’t to rule out or confirm a goal but to upgrade Aubameyang’s yellow card to a red after his nasty challenge on Max Meyer.
Upon review, it was clear to see that the forward had caught his opponent dangerously late and with his studs on full show. Meyer immediately took himself off the pitch in the wake of the challenge, his ankle having rolled in the process.
Although there was another delay in reaching the decision – why couldn’t the referee had reviewed the incident on the pitchside monitor? – it ultimately proved to be the right one. A rare case of VAR being correctly put to use.
Backline struggles continue for Arsenal
Arsenal’s defence has been a key concern for many years now, and here was another reminder of why. The performance as a whole was summed up by Luiz, who once again flashed hot and cold for the visitors.
There were moments where the Brazilian went from comfortably marshalling the backline, dealing with high balls over the top and picking out key forward passes, to heading play into the path of his opponents. And, of course, it was his leg which helped guide Ayew’s shot into the back of the net after the Arsenal defence had failed to clear a crossed delivery into the box.
Arteta’s defenders had started with confidence, succeeding in keeping the Eagles under wrap and limiting their chances to a testing shot from Cheikhou Kouyate in the 41st minute. But an inability to maintain their structure and positioning, as well as a propensity for panicking under pressure, only served to undermine their cause.
Ayew steps up as Zaha fails to hit top form
Far too much reliance is placed on Wilfried Zaha by Crystal Palace, meaning that when he’s not at his best, the side often come up short in finding the back of the net. Indeed, there’s a reason that only Watford have scored fewer goals in the Premier League this season.
Today it was a case of mixed fortunes for the winger. Although his presence grew as the match approached its conclusion – he almost bagged an assist with a floated ball to the back post on 80 minutes – there were lengthy spells at Selhurst Park where Zaha simply failed to assert himself.
Luckily for him and his teammates, Ayew was on hand to do the dirty work. It was an industrial performance from the forward, whose hard running and reading of the game reaped the rich reward of a second-half equaliser. Palace still need to do more to take the game to their opponents and bring some bite to their attacking play, but on this occasion the home fans will be grateful for Ayew’s no-nonsense, hard-working approach.