Arsenal have had a really bumpy ride full of ups and downs under Mikel Arteta. Having failed to qualify for any European competitions this season, Arsenal have got some really good performances under the belt. After an impressive 2020-21 Premier League season and a stellar performance at the EURO 2020, Bukayo Saka has cemented his place in the Arsenal line-up and certainly became a fan favourite among the Gunners’ faithful.
This season again Arsenal had a lousy start but have recovered to their current position of 10th in the league with 14 points from nine matches. They are slowly trying to make a comeback and Saka has been one of the players who has helped them do this. The youngster has dropped some great performances till now. Bukayo Saka’s performances have been excellent when he’s played on the right-wing and the arrival of Takehiro Tomiyasu has played a big part in the Englishman rediscovering his best form. With the ability to cut inside as well as dribbling towards the by-line on his right, Saka is equipped to take men on by himself without necessarily needing the support of an overlapping right-back, which given the defence-first approach of Tomiyasu, is perfect for the football Arteta is looking to play.
Nicolas Pepe’s time at Arsenal has not lived up to the price tag. The Ivorian is being consistently outshone when Bukayo Saka is given the opportunity to play on his natural right flank. In both chances against Spurs and now Aston Villa, Saka has been brilliant, and his opposite flank partner Emile Smith Rowe has shined just as brightly. Nicolas Pepe has definitely been brilliant in some of the games he has played, but he lacks consistency and has failed to deliver such performances week in and week out.
Let’s take a look at what the stats have to say:
Nicolas Pepe Attacking stats 2021-22
Pepe has had decent attacking numbers this season, but the winger has failed to prove these numbers with goals or assists to his name. He has failed to register a single goal this season. Pepe has a low shot on target percentage as he has had only 31.25% of his shots on target. The Ivorian has failed to create a threat with the attacking actions he has performed as he has completed only 30% of the attempted attacking actions.
Bukayo Saka Attacking stats 2021-22
Saka started out playing on the left flank in his initial starts this season but has moved to the right flank where his performances have been much better. As seen in the above visuals, Saka definitely has better attacking numbers than Pepe in the attacking actions he has attempted. While Pepe was struggling to complete the attacking actions he was attempting, Saka has a 40.72% success rate in completing these actions. Saka also has approximately 4 touches in the penalty area per 90 minutes which is better than 93% of the players in the league.
Pepe has started every game on the right flank and has made six appearances in the Premier League so far. Pepe has completed most of his passes in the final third and has managed to create a threat for the opposition with his passes.
Playing on both flanks and dropping deep, Saka has played different types of passes throughout the pitch. The majority of his passes have been near the attacking third, on the right trying to link up with the over-lapping full-back. Saka has been heavily involved in the Arsenal build-up towards goal in each of the games he played so far. As seen in the above visual, Saka is a much higher threat for the opposition team when he has played on the right side. His passes into the penalty area from the right flank have generated a higher xT value.
Pepe has attempted 16 shots in his six appearances and has had five of these 16 attempts on target. Most of his shots have been from the right side of the pitch when he cuts in from the wing and attempts the shot on goal. Pepe has failed to be effective in front of goal and has been wasteful of the chances he has received. There are times when Pepe fails to make the right move when he is able to get into threatening positions and does not capitalise on the chances created.
Saka has featured in each of the nine games Arsenal have played and has attempted 15 shots on goal with five shots on target. Saka has one goal to his name this season and it came in a very important match against Spurs. As seen in the above visual Saka has a higher number of shots on goal from the right flank. Being a left-footed player, it is difficult to attempt shots on goal while playing from the left flank and it is easier for Saka to cut in from the right flank and take a crack on goal. Playing from the right make him more effective in front of goal and can add more goals to his name.
Bukayo Saka is definitely a budding talent with incredible potential has proved his worth at Arsenal very well and with a huge scope of improvement, he can be one of the best wingers in the world. Pepe on the other hand has lacked consistency since he arrived at Arsenal and has failed to cement his place in Mikel Arteta’s starting 11.