Labels can be damaging.
Sport is one of the worst fields for slapping a figurative post-it-note on a person. It only takes one instance and, much like your school days where one slip-up can result in an unwanted nickname until the end of days, the moniker or reputation will never leave, becoming a second skin.
Sometimes it might not even be down to the actions of the aforementioned sports person. They could be a victim of circumstance and then, BAM! They are erstwhile known for something they had little to do with in the first place.
Now Nicolas Pepe is not one of those players who has been labelled with something after just one instance or moment.
Nicolas Pepe has, by all accounts, had a fairly decent bedding-in period.
But it is his price tag that is like a huge shadow that hangs over everything he does. The fact Pepe is our record purchase, a history maker if you will, means he must elevate above the ordinary. Conventional parameters do not apply to the winger.
Pepe’s first season must be scrutinised to get to the bottom of this. His numbers were more than respectable when you take into account the variables that affected him.
Three different managers in one season. A new league. New teammates, new tactics – and yet he managed to bag 18 goals and assists in 42 appearances – nearly a goal involvement in every other game.
This season? He has five in 13.
Then you consider how much time he has spent on the bench, lacking that vital match rhythm that is required for the crucial 5% in performance that all top players have – as they consistently play games. Week in and week out, the big names stride onto the pitch and do the business.
Pepe is still looking to nail down his preferred spot on the right flank.
But people label him a flop because we paid a massive fee for him. £72m is a gargantuan figure and there aren’t many players who warrant that kind of money – and Pepe is not one of them.
Yet, just because former Arsenal supremo Raul Sanllehi paid over the odds for Pepe – does that mean he should be labelled thusly?
No. Another player who cost less, if they had done what he has done so far with limited opportunity – they wouldn’t have it anywhere near as hard in terms of critique.
Pepe makes things happen. Every time he loses the ball, the replay is held up as some form of justification, why he is a flop. But confrontational wingers, those who take on their full-back and aim to spark something? They have to take risks – and Pepe is a risk taker. That means that he will lose the bal as he attempts to slalom past a defender – but when it comes off? The chances of us scoring are far higher than if he hadn’t attempted it.
Pepe’s recent sending off against Leeds United was another stick to beat him with, but Arteta has come out to speak of Pepe’s excellent attitude and work rate and Pepe himself apologised to us fans via social media for his mistake.
It was naive. It was stupid, but he still needs to be in the team.
We don’t have anyone like him – other than Saka – that can do what he does. Nelson is still in his infancy and could potentially be fantastic, but he can learn from Pepe in the meantime.
Pepe though, still has a little growing up to do himself.
If he can get back into the team on a regular basis then he could well be the spark we need.
But crucially, he also must feel some pressure, as it is now time to make something happen every time he is on the pitch.
The big players do it – he must show he can do the same.