Nicolas Pepe

Four Things from North London Derby

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Thrill-a-minute? Absolutely, but Sunday’s 2-2 draw between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal was probably more fun for the neutrals than supporters of the teams on the pitch at the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Full recap ]

Arsenal somehow turned early dominance into a 2-0 deficit, but erased it and then some against a Spurs side which wobbled again in drawing top opposition at home.

Here are three things we took away from the pulsating encounter, which left more questions than answers for both teams.

We’ve now seen both Arsenal and Spurs look clearly second best over 90 minutes against Liverpool and Man City, respectively. It’s still super early, but maybe there are three distinct classes in the race for the Top Six places.

Luiz gonna Luiz, and Xhaka gonna Xhaka

No, that’s not a good thing. Arsenal’s twin time bombs turned a dominant first half into a 2-0 deficit.

David Luiz‘s lackadaisical life as a Gunner continues in the opening 10 minutes at the Emirates, as the ex-Chelsea man nearly gave away a free kick to Harry Kane with a silly challenge that went uncalled.

It was foreshadowing, as Luiz got caught in two minds when following Heung-Min Son. He was shook by a simple run behind him, and then didn’t bother to get in the path of Eriksen’s run to the back post to deposit a rebound for 1-0.

You’ll recall that Luiz got cooked by Mohamed Salah in similar fashion last week. Both matches were close, and both mistakes mattered to the score line.

As for Xhaka, he defies his statistics at every turn. Over 90 minutes, he’s going to be one of your best players (See his terrific vision to set-up of Pepe in the 85th minute). But in at least one moment, he’s going to absolutely short-circuit your goals.

In this case, the Swiss star slid into Son with the ball gone and only minuscule hope of anything positive. No miracle arrived, rather a penalty to Spurs and Harry Kane rarely misses those.

That was 2-0 Spurs despite Arsenal control of the match.

Pepe, Auba, Laca trident verdict = Pretty, pretty good

If Granit Xhaka‘s midfield madness showed the opposite, Arsenal’s first goal showed why every neutral on Earth wants to see Nicolas Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Alexandre Lacazette on the field at the same time.

Unai Emery handed Arsenal’s best trident its first start, and Pepe’s otherworldly close-range pass allowed Lacazette to burst through the 18 to smash past Hugo Lloris.

Aubameyang would add a goal soon after Lacazette subbed out of the match, and it would be foolhardy to imagine that the hour-plus of dealing with the trident wore on Spurs defenders.

The performance wasn’t picture perfect — they did only score the one goal in 67 minutes together — but you have to think they’ll cook a lot of defenses that hold less quality than Spurs.

Spurs leave a lot to be desired

When you consider that Tottenham was given among the most fortunate 2-0 leads you’ll see, this was a poor result even given the venue. Outshot 26-15 and off-balance often, Spurs ought to give Harry Winks, as well as their center backs and goalkeeper, free dinner.

Yes, they were playing without Tanguy Ndombele. And yes, they deserve full credit for the Christian Eriksen goal, but it came via school boy errors by a half-dozen or so Arsenal players led by Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz.

The other goal came from Xhaka’s absurd challenge on Spurs MOTM Son, who was very very good. Late chances were there, but Harry Kane embellished to try and win a late penalty and Dele Alli‘s lone moment as a sub was also a headfirst baseball slide which went unheeded. The calm of Spurs’ last season was simply not there.

Still, Son was quite good, Winks again a wonderful engine — sometimes single-handedly willing the unit forward — and Hugo Lloris mostly up to the task. The defense did stop the bleeding and preserve an away point. There are things to like from the season’s slow start, but Sunday’s performance was entertaining but not encouraging.

How Mauricio Pochettino integrates Giovani Lo Celso and eventually Ryan Sessegnon will go a long way to settling Spurs down.

Emery pushes decent buttons in come back

It’s easy to forget that Unai Emery has turned average ingredients into silverware-winning dishes in his day, so it’s no surprise that Arsenal’s manager was able to adjust his side to get a point at home.

Yes, even against Spurs stingy defense.

It’s clear that Emery thinks the Aubameyang-Lacazette-Pepe trident won’t allow him to include more than one forward-thinking midfielder like Dani Ceballos or Henrikh Mkhitaryan in his midfield (Mkhitaryan was pedestrian if not poor off the bench). That’s presumably why he opted for Lucas Torreira and Xhaka with Guendouzi.

Emery’s men didn’t lose their nerve down 2-0 — a credit to him — and the comeback started before he made his subs, but Ceballos was a big part of the difference. Would playing Ceballos and Guendouzi with Torreira sacrifice too much size and grit in the middle? Probably, and that’s the hard bargain Emery will have to strike on a week-to-week basis: Is he better with his trident together, or with a necessary fourth midfielder?

Could Arsenal finally start Pepe, Auba, Lacazette?

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Arsenal fans could finally see the forward trio they’ve been waiting for.

With Alexandre Lacazette almost recovered from an ankle injury, he could start up top in a front three including fellow Frenchmen Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and new signing Nicolas Pepe. It’s just in time, as Arsenal faces Tottenham in the first edition of the North London derby this season.

[READ: JPW’s Premier League Picks]

“I think they can start together and they can play also during the match as all three, it depends how we decide our gameplan,” Emery said. “But I am very optimistic for that situation, but not also those three players, also Nelson, Mkhitaryan, Willock, Ozil. We need to be able to make the best decisions, but above all, to have different possibilities with the players.”

Arsenal fans have been waiting with baited breath to see the speed, skill, and technique of Aubameyang, Lacazette, and Pepe playing together. It obviously gives Arsenal an issue defensively, because the trio aren’t exactly known for their defending. But if Arsenal can move forward on the break, and if Emery can find the overall balance of the squad, it could bring tremendous results.

Going up against Tottenham at the Emirates is also a special occasion. The players have added motivation to succeed and should be ready to put on a show in front of the home crowd. It will be interesting to see what kind of chemistry Lacazette and Aubameyang have built early on with Pepe, and if they score, what their celebration will be.

Who shined and who stunk in Liverpool’s win over Arsenal

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Arsenal was soundly beaten at Anfield by the defending Champions League winners in a contest that proved the massive gulf between the two sides.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

Liverpool is clearly one of the best teams in the world, while Arsenal still has a long way to go to be a viable contender a top four spot in the Premier League table. The Gunners invested heavily this summer hoping to make a push back into the Champions League, but they did little to address the defensive frailties and it showed.

Here’s a brief overview of who stood out on both ends of the spectrum as Liverpool stays top of the table and Arsenal heads home licking its wounds.

STUDS:

  1. Liverpool’s left flankAndy Robertson and Sadio Mane bossed the game, of that there is little question. Through the first half, the left side of Liverpool’s formation had pressed Arsenal into oblivion. By halftime, Andy Robertson to Sadio Mane was the most prolific pass combination with 17, level with Giorginio Wijnaldum to Robertson. Mane, Robertson, and Wijnaldum combined for eight successful tackles, seven of which were in the attacking half. Mane himself was 5/5 tackling in the first half, a stunning total that kept Arsenal pinned deep in its own half by forcing repeated turnovers.
  2. Roberto Firmino – The Brazilian’s creativity and inventive nature never ceases to impress. He was at it again against Arsenal, producing space and presenting options for teammates with his top-notch off-ball movement, and every time the ball touched his feet he produced something mouth-watering. His lay-off to Mohamed Salah led to the second-half penalty, and was 16/23 passing in the attacking third overall. His ingenuity is what sets Liverpool’s attack apart from the pack.
  3. Mohamed Salah – While the left side of Liverpool’s formation ran the first half, Salah was the star of the second 45. He earned and scored the penalty soon after the break, and scored a stunning solo goal to put the game away.

DUDS:

  1. Unai Emery – A worse performance than anyone on the field, the Arsenal manager has had a mare. By playing no wingers and having all his attackers pinch, he allowed Liverpool to play outside in and deploy essentially a five-man front line with acres of space on the flanks, pinning his full-backs to the end line. Emery never changed shape once throughout the match, instead just stretching out his defensive line to deal with the Liverpool runners out wide and leaving huge patches of empty space across the back. Bafflingly, with a 3-0 deficit and a half-hour to go, he left Alexandre Lacazette on the bench and instead brought on defensive midfielder Lucas Torreira, and didn’t even bother to change the shape, instead simply shifting the midfield diamond around. Granit Xhaka, the defensive midfielder, was all over the pitch as Arsenal was stretched thin by Liverpool’s marauding width. The Gunners only erased the clean sheet when Liverpool sat back and allowed them to come forward, no consolation for the beatdown they suffered. To make matters worse, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was bright after coming on, making Emery look worse for leaving another potentially game-changing player on the bench so long. The Gunners’ will want to take a long look at himself after this match, because this is the kind of performance that gets a manager fired.
  2. David Luiz – The former Chelsea man was downright awful. The penalty early in the second half was blatant, and he failed to even contest Salah on the wing for Liverpool’s third. He wasn’t helped by Emery’s miserable tactical setup, but Luiz’s arrival has done little to alleviate Arsenal’s obvious defensive deficiencies.
  3. Nicolas Pepe – The Frenchman earned his first Premier League start, and he struggled with confidence early on. Pepe fired a long-range effort just wide of the top-left corner on the half-hour mark that seemed to show promise, but he whiffed on a huge opportunity on the counter 34 minutes in with the game still 0-0, putting his one-on-one shot right at Adrian, a moment of serious regret for the Gunners in a game that eventually got away from them. He waited too long to send Aubameyang through on goal early in the second half and was lucky not to have it given offside. Pepe was good in bunches, completing 7 of 10 attempted take-ons which will give Gunners fans hope moving forward, but that miss was a significant moment in the match.
  4. Trent Alexander-Arnold – With Liverpool looking to cross Arsenal to death, Andy Robertson vastly outplayed his counterpart TAA on the opposite flank. Alexander-Arnold’s deliveries into the box were toothless, failing to find an attacker with balls that floated and sailed, and ruining a chance just before the opener with a bad cutback. The 20-year-old is a fantastic player – case in point, we’re criticizing his deliveries in a game where he got an assist off a corner. In fact, that assist was his only connected cross of a whopping nine attempted in the first half. We know he can do even better, and he will going forward, of that there is no doubt.

Three things learned: Liverpool v. Arsenal

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The CliffsNotes of Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat of Arsenal says one team was much better than the other, who didn’t choose its lineup well and couldn’t take advantage of a defense that doesn’t look ready to match wits with the best in the world.

[ MORE: Match recap | Stars and duds ]

Mohamed Salah was amazing, Unai Emery was uninspiring, and Arsenal’s attack joined Norwich City and Southampton in howling, “What if?” in a fun match that never really threatened to go in any direction other than that of the reigning European champions.

Take your few chances versus Liverpool, or die

Over the last two months, Liverpool may have allowed more dynamite scoring chances than they did over the second half of the 2018-19 season.

If you don’t cash in those chips against them, you might as well call it a day.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang couldn’t convert a difficult angle into the goal after Adrian made a massive first half gaffe, and Nicolas Pepe missed a chance to put the Gunners on the board when Adrian saved his low effort off a Jordan Henderson giveaway

Aubameyang took too long to shoot when another giveaway put him through on goal, and Matip caught up to the Gabon star. Still, a prime chance.

We’ve seen time and again this early season that Liverpool opens up at the back, but Arsenal’s stars did like Danny Ings in Week Two and pretty much all of Norwich City’s attack on Opening Day, and got the same result as their PL peers.

Now, perhaps if Unai Emery had started Alexandre Lacazette, too, well… let’s just say Jurgen Klopp was pretty thankful to not have that problem.

That said, Liverpool still foiled in bid for long-sought clean sheet

Preseason is preseason, but the Reds usually imperious defense had dragged its sloppy form from summer into the Premier League.

Liverpool kept a clean sheet in its preseason opener against Tranmere Rovers, and went on to concede 12 in the next six friendlies. Norwich City and Southampton both managed a goal in the Reds’ first two PL outings, but there were plenty of misses (See Danny Ings’ attempted flick equalizer in Week Two).

Throw in 1-1 and 2-2 score lines in the Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup matches, and Liverpool hadn’t kept a clean sheet in 10 outings.

Now we’ve documented how this was still not a luxurious example of the Reds’ defending prowess but, given Arsenal’s attack, a clean sheet would have still loomed larger than any of their other performances this season. Instead, Torreira’s goal a mild red flag as Liverpool’s failure to hang a ‘0’ on the board for the 11th-straight occasion.

Instead, the questions rightly remain. What will happen when the attack isn’t so prolific?

Mo’ Mo, please

When you’ve got a magnificent team like Liverpool, there’s a temptation to magnify ancillary pieces or second stars over the best attacker on the team.

Please don’t make that mistake, Reds fans.

Mohamed Salah is one of the best players in the world, and he’s a touch above any one on the attacking unit in terms of importance. Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are splendid players who would be the best on any number of teams, but Salah they are not.

He’s stronger than he looks, and will plant his legs into the pitch to hold position. He’s legs whir like the roadrunner, and he’s so clever both will and without the ball. To boot, Salah hasn’t yet had to embellish to win a penalty yet this season, literally the only knock against him (and also an asset for his team, whether you like it or not).

Now whether Salah or Virgil Van Dijk is more important to the team, well, that’s a great debate for your next time watching with friends.

Watch Live: Liverpool v. Arsenal

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2-0 to start the season, Liverpool and Arsenal are both bidding for their first marquee three points when they tangle at Anfield on Saturday (Watch live on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Alexandre Lacazette is on the bench for Arsenal as record signing Nicolas Pepe starts for the Gunners, who have beaten Burnley and Newcastle United.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Liverpool’s wins have come against Norwich City and Southampton, and Reds boss Jurgen Klopp is deploying his very best to face the Gunners.

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