Nicolas Pepe

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Watch Live: Leicester City v. Arsenal

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Two of the Premier League’s more electric attacks meet at King Power Stadium when Arsenal visits Leicester City on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Leicester can join Chelsea on 26 points with a win, a figure good for second in the Premier League before Sunday’s big Liverpool-Man City match.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Arsenal can close within three points of fourth-place Leicester with a win at the King Power Stadium

Nicolas Pepe is again on the bench for Arsenal.

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Emery’s use of attackers may be his Arsenal downfall

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When the Premier League season began, many joked that Arsenal was built to try and outscore teams 3-2 each week over 38 weeks.

It was a nod to the Gunners’ extraordinary attacking prowess and limited defensive additions. Arsenal had signed three defenders in the summer, one who wouldn’t arrive until the following season (William Saliba*) and another who would miss some time with injury (Kieran Tierney).

The third was David Luiz.

So it isn’t surprising that the Gunners are still allowing goals. It is surprising that they are not scoring more, and perhaps a bit stunning that the expected goals table says that Unai Emery‘s men aren’t even hard luck victims.

Arsenal has scored 16 goals and allowed 15 through 11 match days, but the xG table says the North London outfit has actually finished a bit better their chances and been worse on the other end (15 xG for, 17 xGA).

Luiz has made several head scratching errors to go with his wonderful long passes and forays forward. He’s a player capable of both the ethereal and the tragic, not unlike Granit Xhaka, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that a move across London.

There are plenty of reasons to be upset with the defense, of course, and it’s one thing if that anger is put at the board instead of Emery. The league-worst 7.7 interceptions per game points a bit to the tactics, but there’s no question the Gunners have made mistakes above field level even if the Laurent Koscielny exit to Bordeaux caught them by surprise.

But what should be damning is what Emery has been unable to do with an unbelievable batch of attackers. Given Nicolas Pepe to go with Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the tactician has not been able to find a way to play them together. Breakout teens Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka were both used over unused sub Pepe on Saturday despite the Ivorian not playing in the midweek League Cup loss to Liverpool.

Don’t get us wrong, both players are exciting pieces for the future, but the decision is so short-sighted (let alone that Emery put on Saka for Lucas Torreira with a one-goal lead and 17 minutes to play. Perhaps coincidental but no surprise tha it was 1-1 three minutes later).

Some if not many have argued that Pepe has been a disappointment since arriving in a mega money deal from Ligue 1, and the 24-year-old’s three goals and three assists in exactly 800 minutes in all competitions certainly aren’t eye-popping from a player who scored 22 and 11 in 3300 at Lille last season.

Yet Pepe is capable of the sensational, as evidenced by his pair of free kick goals in 15 minutes off the bench in the Europa League on Oct. 15. He’s third in the PL in successful dribbles (34) and is the 19th ranked player by SofaScore and 24th in WhoScored’s ratings. That’s the best of any Arsenal player, with Aubameyang 38th and 62nd according to both sites, respectively.

And stats say Pepe has been somewhat unlucky in PL play to boot, with one actual goal to go with 3 expected goals. His xG plus xA per contest is below only Lacazette and level with Aubameyang.

Arsenal is ninth in the PL in key passes, with 12.9 per game. Pepe’s 1.7 are behind only Mesut Ozil, whose sample size is two matches.

Look at this pass from Pepe to Lacazette between three bodies to set up Arsenal’s first goal in its memorable North London Derby comeback. It’s just one example, sure, and all players need time to integrate to a new league and culture, but not using a healthy Pepe for 180 minutes should never happen even with the five-pack of attackers.

*A silver lining for Arsenal fans: Saint-Etienne boss Claude Puel is furious with his club for selling the 18-year-old Saliba, calling him the “best player” on the team. He’s coming, eventually, even if Real Madrid are reportedly trying to find a way to hijack the sale/loan.

Mexico’s Jimenez delivers Wolves point at Arsenal

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Raul Jimenez’s 76th minute goal gave Wolves a deserved point from a 1-1 draw with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Wolves out shot their hosts 25-10 in collecting a 13th point of the year. That sits them 11th, four points behind fifth place Arsenal.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bagged Arsenal’s goal in the first half.


Three things we learned

1. Emery gets it wrong: The Arsenal boss would be right to feel pressure as another visitor dominated play against his side. A start for Mesut Ozil meant a place on the bench for Nicolas Pepe, and the in-form Ivorian never entered the fray against a Wolves side which can be beaten by creativity. Instead, Emery put in youngsters Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka, and the kids didn’t have it in them. Moreover, we can understand why Emery didn’t start Granit Xhaka after his tumultuous week — and maybe the player preferred not to face the home crowd — but his steel was missed against Joao Moutinho‘s stylish midfield.

2. Wolves grab point in 9th of 11 league matches: Look, there’s no question Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men have been troubled by the schedule congestion provided by the Europa League and, until this week, the League Cup, but full credit to them for finding a way to get points more often than not. Late equalizers against Newcastle, Crystal Palace, and now Arsenal mean the side has only fallen to Everton (3-2) and Chelsea (5-2) in Premier League play despite playing 20 matches all over Europe since Aug. 8.

3. El Tri’s best striker delivers the goods again: Raul Jimenez led the way with Wolves’ equalizer and this monster stat line: 8 shots, 6 aerials won, and 4 tackles. That’s from your center forward, Wolves fans. He’s a problem in the club, folks.

Man of the Match: Jimenez was an absolute beast for the visitors.


Wolves came out of the gates with vigor, and Arsenal had trouble keeping the ball out of its end and keeping hold of it altogether.

The Gunners went ahead through their two strikers, Lacazette doing plenty of work to set up Aubameyang for a goal that doesn’t rank high on his difficulty scale.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

But Wolves did not relent against a side which probably missed Xhaka (see above).

Amazingly, it was still Arsenal 1-0 for much of the second half despite massive disadvantages in possession and shots, but Jimenez’s relentless effort allowed Wolves to level the line.

PL Sunday Preview: Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Man United in action

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures will have it all, as Arsenal and Crystal Palace battle for the fifth spot; Wolverhampton Wanderers look to continue their positive run against Newcastle; Manchester United look to snap a four-game winless streak as they take on a struggling Norwich City; and Liverpool look to continue their unbeaten season as they host Tottenham.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Newcastle vs. Wolves — 10:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

With Andy Carroll injured and weeks removed from their victory over Manchester United, the blues that has permeated thoughtout Newcastle United under Steve Bruce is back full force.

There’s a plethora of questions surrounding Bruce’s employment status, owner Mike Ashley and record signing Miguel Almiron, but, from the looks of it, the Magpies have very few answers to offer. At St, James’ Park against Wolves, who have cleaned up their act – eight points in their last four league matches – since starting the season poorly, Newcastle have the chance to answer the long list of questions.

Bruce, confident of his side true abilities, recognizes that Sunday’s match will be a tough task.

“Wolves have got good players who play in a certain system and do it very well,” the 58-year-old manager said ahead of the match. “They’re a threat – they’re a good side. We’re at home against a very decent Wolves side but we’re capable – we know that – and we’ll have to be at our best to win.”

Wolves, on the other hand, are in the best shape they’ve been all season. Second place in their Europa League group and unbeaten in their last four Premier League bouts, Nuno Espirito Santo is galvanizing his players, specifically Raul Jimenez who has scored or assisted in his last three competitive matches.

With Newcastle as their next stop, there’s a good chance Wolves’ (and Jimenez’s) fine run can continue.

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Andy Carroll (groin), Fabian Schär (knee), Florian Lejeune (knee, Nov); SUSPENDED: Isaac Hayden| Wolves — OUT: None

Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

On paper, there is no tighter contest this matchweek than Arsenal versus Crystal Palace.

Only a point separates the Gunners – fifth on the table – from Palace, who are putting together a surprising season under Roy Hodgson – especially taking in consideration the unproductiveness from Wilfried Zaha.

Even though Nicolas Pepe, whose arrival at the Emirates broke the club’s record, stepped up for Arsenal midweek in Europa League play, it’s Mesut Özil’s omission from the squad that has everyone glued on the North London club. Will he return to take on a competitive Palace? Probably not, but that won’t improve the Eagles’ chances, who accept that they are facing one of the fiercest attacking teams led by Andre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

“Arsenal have had a very good start to the season,” Hodgson confessed. “Their attack is very, very dangerous. We realise we are going to face a team with enormous firepower and a team that run a lot and team that are very good with the ball.”

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Reiss Nelson (knee) | Crystal Palace — OUT: Connor Wickham (knock), Mamadou Sakho (knee)

Norwich City vs. Manchester United — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Manchester United are far from being 100 percent, but with the returns of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Anthony Martial this week, the Red Devils can make a much-needed statement of intent as they travel to Carrow Road.

Obviously, the prime objective for Ole Gunnar Solskjær and company is now to get the club out of the lamentable position they are in – 15th on the table after 9 bouts. But the reality is that they have to build their way there by overwriting ongoing deficits. In their last 19 competitive matches, United have scored more than one goal in a single match only once.

Taking on the Canaries’ leaky backline enhances United’s chances of putting an end to their poor run, but if Norwich has shown Solskjær anything it’s their identity at home.

“When I watched Norwich’s first game against Liverpool, I saw a team with a lot of courage,” the Norwegian said. “It’s given them some great results as they beat Newcastle and Manchester City with a clear philosophy on how they want to play.”

“I hope we’re going to stop them because it’s always going to be difficult down at Carrow Road but we’re ready for it now,” he added. “We’ve got some players back.”

With the likes of Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw, and Eric Bailly still absent, United are far from full power, but it’s likely they won’t need it to comfortably cruise past Norwich on Sunday, anyways.

INJURIES: Norwich City — OUT: Mario Vrancic (illness), Ralf Fährmann (match fitness), Grant Hanley (groin), Christoph Zimmermann (ankle), Timm Klose (knee) | Manchester United — OUT: Luke Shaw (groin), Paul Pogba (ankle), Eric Bailly (knee), Axel Tuanzebe (hip), Diogo Dalot (groin)

Liverpool vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com

It’s the 2019 Champions League final rematch, but one of last year’s finalist is only a shadow of its former self.

Tottenham may have showed positive moments in their 5-0 win over Red Star Belgrade in Champions League group stage play, however there are serious reparations Mauricio Pochettino needs to get done before his side comes close to the team they were less than a year ago. Their last away league match resulted in a 3-0 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion.

A trip to Anfield to take on a Liverpool that is on cruise control can result as troublesome for Harry Kane and Co., regardless if Jurgen Klopp doesn’t buy that Spurs are having a Champions League final hangover.

“I can say nothing about their situation,” the German said prior to the match. “How can I compare with our situation? It’s not possible to judge from outside. Reporters always ask for your opinion on other clubs and players but you have to be in a situation to understand it.”

“What I can say is what I saw on Tuesday night and that was a very good Tottenham team playing well,” he added.

No matter what Tottenham shows up on Saturday in Liverpool, one can expect for Liverpool – mostly healthy and unbeaten this season after nine matches – to complicate the 90 minutes for the visitors.

INJURIES: Liverpool  OUT: Xherdan Shaqiri (calf), Nathaniel Clyne (knee) | Tottenham  OUT: Ryan Sessegnon (hamstring), Hugo Lloris (elbow)

Pepe: I hope to play more with Auba, Lacazette

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Arsenal winger Nicolas Pepe may have had his breakout moment on Thursday after scoring two tremendous free kicks to lead Arsenal to victory.

The two Pepe strikes off the bench helped Arsenal to a 3-2 win over Vitoria SC of Portugal, overcoming a 2-1 deficit and a performance that seemed heading towards defeat at home. It’s been a struggle for Pepe early on in London, as he admitted in an interview with the Telegraph, but things could be turning around as Pepe adjusts to life in the Premier League.

It certainly helped Arsenal and Pepe that Alexandre Lacazette returned from an siz-week ankle injury and played 75 minutes on Thursday, and with Pepe getting regular Premier League minutes with teammate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, it’s only a matter of time before we see a Pepe-Laca-Auba trio up front, which could be a top-3 Premier League attack on paper.

“We have played very little together but we get on well, we are all French [speaking], Pepe said of Aubameyang and Lacazette. For us, it is to understand each other. I hope we will play more together.

“As soon as I arrived they [Lacazette and Aubameyang] helped me. I talked a lot to them. Matteo [Guendouzi] too. I also manage to talk to the other players because it is important to learn the language to communicate with everyone.

Later in the interview, Pepe added what could be the most important aspect of his adjustment: the trust and blessing of his manager, Unai Emery. The Spaniard has come under a lot of scrutiny this season with Arsenal struggling at both ends of the pitch, but Emery has never wavered in his faith of Pepe. In 12 matches for Arsenal so far, Pepe has three goals and three assists in all competitions, including the two against Vitoria. The speedy French-born, Ivory Coast International looks to finally be finding the confidence and form that made him one of the top goal scorers in Ligue 1 last season, and what helped him become a high profile transfer to Arsenal in the first place.

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger used to comment that it takes at least six months for a player to settle into the Premier League, so fans will have to stay patient as Pepe continues to adapt. However, with the breakneck speed of the Premier League, Pepe could be able to take his game to new heights.