Exclusive: Arsenal’s Pepe can still follow Salah example – Abiodun

The veteran Nigerian coach is unwilling to write off the Cote d’ivoire forward who has struggled to make the expected impact at Emirates Stadium

Nicolas Pepe may have failed to sparkle in his maiden season at Arsenal but it is still too early to brand the Cote d’Ivoire international a flop, according to Nigerian coach Henry Abiodun.

In fact, the former Sunshine Stars coach believes Pepe can follow the example of Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah, who has enjoyed great success in the Premier League after initially struggling in the top flight.

So much was expected of the 25-year-old when he arrived at the Emirates Stadium on the back of a club record fee from Lille, but he’s only registered nine goals and eight assists in his first 40 outings across all competitions for the North London outfit.

Abiodun, who is currently the Football Coaches Association of Africa Nations’ director of coaching education, believes Pepe is capable of turning his fortunes around as soon as he adapts to Arsenal’s philosophy.

“Going by his stats and how expensive his contract was, it is not out of place for football fans to think he flopped, but professionally speaking, I would say it’s too early to call him a flop,” Abiodun told Goal. “Mohamed Salah did not do too well at Chelsea, he went to AS Roma and came back to Liverpool; and he has been in his best element since then.

“I think giving [Pepe] another season would be a great thing,” he added. “If you look at it, you would see that he picked a better form after [football returned from the Covid-19 break].

“Look at Arsenal as a team, they struggled throughout this season. When you come on a team like Arsenal that has been struggling while playing under two managers, it could be difficult for a young man like him.”

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Nicolas Pepe Arsenal 2019-20

“One of the reasons why I won’t write him off yet is the fact that tactically speaking, he is always on point,” Abiodun continued. “His one-on-one situation is great as well as his crosses, in-swingers and out-swingers.

“That means he can hold his own fort at any time, but when it comes to group and team tactics, that is where you find him wanting which you may link to the Arsenal philosophy that is yet to be fully embedded in him.

“For example, in his former team in France, he plays on the flanks and there is a kind of situation where you have the striker dropped down and he goes in as a striker and that’s why you see him score a lot of goals, but coming to Arsenal, he’s been relegated to a full flank player – he plays basically on the wing.

“When you look at his record in Lille two seasons ago – where he had to score 22 goals and 11 assists – he was second-highest goals scorer behind PSG’s [Kylian] Mbappe,” Abiodun noted. “Compare that with his record now at Arsenal – scoring [nine] goals and eight assists – I don’t think he is an absolute flop, I know he is going to pick up as soon as he understands better  the philosophy of Arsenal and that of his manager [Mikel Arteta].”

Abiodun - Pepe GFX

In a bid to help the African rediscover the form that made him a fan favourite in the French elite division, coach Abiodun gave useful tips on what must be done to help the ex-Angers and US Orleans star to hit his top form.

“I would prefer he plays closer to goal, and perhaps would come up with a team tactics where he has the opportunity to play closer to the goal area,” the coach continued. “He is played as an absolute flank player and when a player is a complete winger, you expect more assists than scoring goals.

[Sadio] Mane and [Mohamed] Salah today play from the wings but you see them score more goals because they play as strikers. He has to be encouraged more as an individual player because he is very good on one-on-one situations.”

Pepe is expected to play a role when Arteta’s team face Frank Lampard’s Chelsea when they face off in Saturday’s FA Cup Wembley.

“For a player to be effective in one-on-ones, there must be other good players making good runs, and that has not been very good at Arsenal,” Abiodun concluded.

“There should be an all-round support from his team when he is with the ball so that he can excel. He is a very useful player and very deadly on his left foot which is his dominant foot. I think they just have to cut out a better role for him, and let him know he is not a waste in the team.”


Source link