It’s been a tough time of late for Nicolas Pepe. After playing the full 90 minutes in six of Arsenal’s opening nine matches this season, he has failed to start a Premier League game since October.
In brief cameos he has shown what he is capable of, with his goal and assist in the dramatic 2-1 win over Wolves proving potentially essential to the Gunners top four hopes. However, he has probably been a victim of the lack of European football this season. With no Europa League matches there simply aren’t any games for him to prove himself in, and after Arsenal were knocked out of both cup competitions while he was away at AFCON in January, that doesn’t appear likely to change any time soon.
The lack of time he is getting on the pitch has led many to speculate where the Ivorian may look to secure an exit from North London this summer. Come the end of the season he will have just two years left on his contract at the Emriates, and during an interview he refused to rule a move out. “I am focused on how well we do until the end of the season and the club’s target, which is getting into the Champions League,” he said in an interview last week. “Then we will see what happens.” However, Mikel Arteta has now revealed what the former Lille man has to do to earn his spot back in the team.
Pepe did several interviews over the international break and claimed in one of them that onus is now on him to try and restore his place on the pitch at the Emirates. When asked about this Arteta revealed he was glad to hear the professional attitude that the 26-year-old was taking, but challenged him to do more to change things.
“I want to hear that if that’s an honest opinion and I think with Nico that it is because he hasn’t shown anything else to me,” he said “But I don’t want to find players that have the complacency to say I accept that situation. They have to rebuild to that situation and if they cannot get in the team they have to get the player that is playing to a different level and help the team more. And when you have that opportunity you have to take it.”
Opportunities are likely to be few and far between, but Arteta has already shown this season that if you take your chances as a sub, then he is more than willing to reward those with increased minutes in the team. Take Gabriel Martinelli for example. The Brazilian hardly featured in the first three months of the season, but after being given a chance off the bench against Newcastle he scored a sensational goal and has been in the side ever since.
By contrast Pepe was introduced late in the game during Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Aston Villa with the aim of hitting Steven Gerrard’s side on the counter to help secure the win. If anything he almost did the opposite after conceding a dangerous late free kick, but luckily Bernd Leno was on hand to produce an impressive save from Philippe Coutinho’s effort.
It may not have worked out for Pepe as planned since his £72 million move from Lille and as Arsenal continue to be linked with the likes of Cody Gakpo and Darwin Nunez it seems his days in North London may be numbered. But with time running out this season, the Ivorian has now been shown what he must do to ensure increased game time as the Gunners hunt down that final Champions League spot.