Prospecting The Prospects: Nicolas Pepe

Our “prospecting the prospects” series continues for 2019-20!

This is where we run the rule over the of FPL prospects of some who will enter the game next season. This series analyses a selection of these newcomers to the FPL game by simulating how they would have performed using last season’s stats (wherever they played) as if they had been in FPL, then providing our evaluation of the player as an asset ahead of the coming period.

We’ve already done Daniel James, Teemu Pukki, Jack Grealish, Pablo Fornals, Christian Pulisic, Che Adams, Enda Stevens, Emi Buendia and Sebastian Haller this season!

On 1st August 2019, to the joy of many a frustrated Gooner, Arsenal smashed their transfer record to sign Ivorian winger Nicolas Pepe from Lille:

The former Angers man reportedly cost £72m, with the Gunners stepping in after an installment plan (the only way the North London club can do business nowadays it seems) was deemed acceptable by Lille.

From an FPL perspective, the addition of a potential “Premium” asset into the ranks is really exciting – we’ve been one down since Eden Hazard departed for Madrid.

Plus as an Arsenal fan, and long time buyer of Pepe on Football Manager, I’m intrigued by our shiny new signing and want to assess just how good he is.

As usual, I’ll do this through a combination of WhoScored, FFS and FFH data.

Prospecting The Prospects

Appearances: 37 appearances + 1 under 60 mins = 75 points

Goals: 22 goals (22×5) = 110 points

Assists: 11 assists (11×3) = 33 points

Clean Sheets: 15 cs = 15 points

Disciplinary: 1 yellow card = -1 points

Penalties missed: 1 = -2 points

Raw point total: 230

Bonus (n.b. skippable – just a record to show I haven’t made it up)

To give an estimation of the bonus points he would have got, we’ve reviewed the games he would have delivered points in to come to a rough number.

I’ve done this by researching match performance and allocating probable bonus depending on how well he did.

11th Aug -3-1 win v Rennes, goal and assist – scored second (winner) and assisted Jonathan Bamba’s third for 3

26th Aug – 3-0 win v Guimgamp, 2 assists, but Bamba got a brace relegating Pepe to 2

15th Sep – 3-2 win away v Amiens, hattie 3

30th Sep – 3-0 win v Marseille, scored the opener and eventual winner from spot, but a Bamba brace (again) and Fode Ballo-Toure at left back supplying an assist plus cleanie may mean just 1

6th Oct – 3-1 win v St Etienne, assisted Bamba’s second (yes, another brace for all 3 for Bamba) and scored the third 2

20th Oct – 2-1 win v Dijon, scored opener from the spot but a Luiz Araujo game winning performance would have netted him all 3, leaving Pepe on the 2

27th Oct – 1-0 win v Caen, assisted Rafael Leo’s winner but Jose Fonte, Leao and Ballo-Toure would definitely get the bonus 0

2nd Nov – 2-1 loss to PSG, held his own it seems performance wise but only scored a penalty consolation, Kylian Mbappe (goal and assist) and Neymar MotM would have pushed Pepe to 1

1st Dec – 2-2 draw with Lyon, scored the 2nd for Lille, but Bertrand Traore and Loic Remy with goals and assists may have left Pepe again on 1

4th Dec – 1-0 win over Montpelier, scored winner but Fonte and Ballo-Toure may have hoovered up the 3 and 2, so once more just 1

9th Dec – 1-1 draw with Reims and a late equaliser from the spot for Pepe – a poor game by all counts, which may have actually seen him sneak 2

16th Dec – 3-2 win v Nimes, added the third which eventually was the winner (Nimes came back from 3-0 down to 3-2), but a Bamba goal and assist may mean 2

11th Jan – 3-1 win v Caen, scored opener and brace of assists for subsequent goals 3

25th Jan – 2-1 win away v Marseille, brace including opener from spot 3

1st Feb – 4-0 win v Nice, scored second, assisted the 3rd, but Leao also got a goal and assist – his opener became the winner so might have pipped Pepe to max, meaning just 2

6th Feb – 2-1 loss v Rennes, scored opener, but Jordan Siebatcheu got a brace for Rennes in a poor game, so maybe 

10th Mar – 1-0 win away St Etienne, was MoTM and though Gabriel would run him close it’s 3

31st Mar – 3-2 win away v Nantes, scored 2nd from spot and assisted winner for 3

14th Apr – 5-1 win v PSG, absolute star performance scoring second goal (winner) and assisting the 4th and 5th for his team 3

28th April – 5-0 win v Nimes, scored 4th but top full back performances from Mehmet Celik and Youssef Kone (goal and assist respectively, plus clean sheet) plus other good performances means 0

18th May – 5-0 win over old club Angers, scored 2nd and then 4th from spot for all 3

Total guesstimated bonus from G/A: 42(!)

Scores on the doors

272 points for Pepe, and the points don’t need adjusting due to his appearing in 37/38 games for Lille.

That’s a pretty ridiculous 7.35ppg.

That would mean he wound up first in FPL – 13 points ahead of Mo Salah.

Amazing season at Lille.

Evaluation

OK, that’s pretty decent.

There’s a lot of analysis that’s been done on Pepe already, so I’m going to stick to the FPL side on this article.

Here’s a couple of examples, by our friends Adam and GoonerFPL:

With all this great work done already, I’ve my work cut out!

This means I’ll focus on using the numbers at hand to make comparisons to give us a decent feel for what to expect from the new Gunner.

Let’s talk penalties first.

As you probably noted, he scored quite a few from the spot – nine penalties scored in fact. Responsibility for stepping up may not be his at Arsenal, with new team mate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang having taken all five of their penalties last season and converting four.

I’m going to take that out for this analysis, and use the Statsbomb xG/xA numbers as per the below:

That leaves Pepe at an xG of 12.52, which is still good. Understat pairs this with an xA of 11.38 (I’m told winning penalties does not feed into understat, but does into FFS xGI).

Roughly cobbling this together, this leaves Pepe with an xGI from open play of ~23.9, which fits the 13 goals and 11 assists he contributed last season.

Describing his play style, according to The Guardian, he said that he is:

Fast. Quick to connect with the ball and a good finisher as well. That is also an area where I have made progress. I would say that I am quick and a dribbler.

Pepe loves shooting – he took 118 shots last season, of which 71 were in the box (60%). That works out at 3.1 shots per game, a similar ratio to Aubameyang.

He also loves a dribble – he attempted 4.8 dribbles per game last year, being successful in around 55% of his 182 attempts to take a man on. This allowed him to get into positions to score – often via his preferred MO of cutting inside onto his stronger left foot.

He also created a lot of chances for team mates, creating 70 chances – an average of 1.8 key passes per match. He also created more big chances (17) than any other player in Ligue 1.

Talking of assists, Pepe is of interest because he has an extra route to assist points: winning penalties. Even with VAR active in France, Pepe won 6 of the penalties he converted himself last season. “FPL assists”, then, may be another string to Pepe’s bow.

Straight away, you think of one man here; the one Arsenal fan who must be gutted with Pepe’s arrival at the club in wantaway Palace Talisman Wilfried Zaha. The Eagles winger topped the FPL Assists charts last season with 6. Now re-reclassified to midfield, Zaha’s 143 point haul would have risen at least 21 points to 164 if we do a quick recalculation for that – his 10 goals would get an extra point, as well as 11 clean sheets (though his 11 assists remained the same). Zaha attempted 225 take-ons last season, and was successful on half of the times he tried it. However the Palace man tried fewer shots (73) and created fewer chances (54) for his team mates than Pepe did. On the face of those data points, I’m now quite glad as an Arsenal fan that we’ve got Pepe over Zaha. Additionally, Pepe’s (crudely calculated) xGI blows his fellow Ivorian out of the water (23.9 v 10.87 for Zaha) meaning that (potential) 164 haul Zaha got looks more than attainable.

A good descriptor for Pepe may actually be Zaha Deluxe.

Obviously it all depends on acclimatisation, but Pepe’s numbers force you to look up the table for comparators…

A good example of this is that looking at Pepe’s non penalty xG number, Raheem Sterling comes into view. The England wing/forward’s xG of 13.7 is just above Pepe’s 12.52, but adjusting for open play actually makes them look similar. Sterling truly emerged last season as a big player in FPL (despite a just as strong 2017/18), joining the likes of his team mate Sergio Aguero on the “captainable assets” pantheon – a far cry from initial scoffing (including from us!) that he was overpriced. During the last couple of seasons, Sterling has recorded 229 and 234 point hauls, from an average of 18 goals and 16 assists. Although Arsenal sadly aren’t as good as City, they do nonetheless have two high class strikers in Aubameyang and Alex Lacazette for Pepe to play with – could new signing Dani Ceballos play a role in knitting Pepe into games like Kevin de Bruyne and the Silvas do at Man City? Sterling did take fewer shots than Pepe last season, as well as creating fewer chances, but a high xGI speaks to the quality of these.

Delving back to the recent past, wen ‘e woz good former Arsenal Talisman and current United permacrock Alexis Sanchez may well be the sort of player whose record in North London Pepe will be attempting to mimic. In 2016/17, Sanchez (then 11.0) scored 24 goals and nabbed 11 assists – understat reports that as a bit of an overshot of the xG at least, with 17.72xG being nearer what was expected. In mitigation, the Chilean also of course did have time at no9, and took three penalties that year, scoring two of them, which also puff the stats a bit. Nonetheless, the ratio of shots to in the box – of 122 shots he took, 78 were in the box – of 64% isn’t far off Pepe’s 60%. Sanchez also created 78 chances for team mates that year – again, scarily similar to Pepe’s. We’re once more looking at high roller numbers – the former Emirates darling managed 264 points that season. I expect Pepe will score lower – there will be an adjustment period – but those similarities between Pepe’s numbers at Lille and Sanchez’s in his prime at Arsenal are striking.

Going to our “Rolls Royce” example, one tricky winger who loves shooting and pen box touches is Mo Salah. It was of huge relief that my Prospecting The Prospects of the Egyptian King (read this relic here if interested) was broadly accurate. At Roma, Salah’s 15 goal 8 assist haul gave only small glimpses of the heroism to come, with him averaging 2.6 shots and 2.3 key passes per game in his final season in Italy. As we know, Mo took to the Premier League like a duck to water and although Pepe and Salah aren’t entirely similar in terms of their playstyle it’s very interesting to see how Pepe’s numbers are on a level with Salah’s in their final seasons pre Prem. Last season, Salah created 18 big chances, compared to 12 in that all-conquering first season, so he’s definitely grown to be more accommodating to team mates. Pepe seems already there by the xGI numbers, so it might just be a case of seeing how quickly Pepe can produce in the Premier League.

I’m not saying that Pepe will get 300+. But if he can adjust quickly, a 200+ season wouldn’t be off the cards. Given what I’ve seen and researched on Pepe, I think a haul of that magnitude could well be on the table if he’s able to transmit his form from France over to the Premier League: remember I’ve taken his penalty numbers out.

Pepe may also be of interest to Sky managers – I noted that WhoScored gave him 13 man of the match awards last season, including 2 in games where he didn’t make an attacking contribution. He may therefore be one of those – like Eden Hazard – who looks sparkly and dangerous even if he doesn’t produce anything tangible, which means pundits in charge of the MotM award may well plump for him due to a few jinking runs and a couple of decent attempts.

What will be interesting (as Adam also notes) is how Pepe will adapt to no longer being the main man. At Lille he was whereas, at Arsenal, Aubameyang and his beta Lacazette will be vying for that Talisman mantle. It’s a clear point of mitigation that the examples used in Zaha, Sterling, Sanchez and Salah are/were the key men for their sides, whereas Pepe may not be. Nonetheless, he could really add a further dimension to the attack with his unique stats profile clearly giving Emery a sharp weapon in his, er, Arsenal to help beat teams using Pepe’s pace, power and trickery.

It’s all looking very exciting for us long suffering Gooners. I promise I’ve tried to do this via an impartial lens. But the numbers for Pepe are genuinely very encouraging – there’s a reason he was so highly thought of and the record signing, and therefore a reason why we’re all so surprised we’ve got him – which may well mean if he gets a decent price he may end up being an auto-include for managers before long.

UPDATE: Pepe is 9.5m

This further reinforces my initial feeling that I highly doubt I’ll start with Pepe to give him time to adjust, but from Gameweek 5 to Gameweek 16 when we only face Man Utd of the other top 6 sides may well be time to buy buy buy. I’m going for it with a high rating – don’t let me down, Nico!

Overall rating: 4 / 5 – A good prospect for FPL*

*derived from a completely subjective scale from 1-5, where 1 is bad and 5 is excellent

Disclaimer: we thoroughly accept this system of evaluating players isn’t flawless. Predicting how well a player will do is an inexact science, and there are many ways to do it. However, we feel that it’s a nice approach to getting a feel for how a player might do in FPL.