Arsenal

Nicolas Pepe’s final chance to save his Arsenal career becomes clearer amid latest transfer hint

At least Nicolas Pepe now has clarity with regards to his Arsenal career.

The fact that Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe did not start the last two games against Manchester United and Everton respectively, and nor did the club’s £72m record signing should speak volumes.

In fact, so should his reaction to being snubbed once again on Monday night.

Furthermore, with Gunners manager Mikel Arteta turning to Eddie Nketiah with his side needing a goal in both games highlights just how far Pepe has fallen down the pecking order at Arsenal.

This is somewhat of a surprise as earlier in the season, it was beginning to look like the Ivory Coast international had finally won over Arteta.

Now, cast your mind back to the first half of last season where Pepe started just four of 19 Premier League games – despite how impressive he was in the Europa League group phase – as he found Willian and Saka ahead of him in the pecking order for the right-wing spot.

Furthermore, after Arteta branded his red card against Leeds United last November “unacceptable”, it looked like a long way back for the winger in terms of becoming a key player under the Spaniard.

To his credit, Pepe was able to make it impossible for the Arsenal manager to overlook him as his form during the second half of last season saw him named as the club’s second-best player of the campaign – as voted by supporters.

This was after netting eight goals across all competitions in the final two months of the season, including five in Arsenal’s final three Premier League games as they narrowly missed out on qualifying for Europe.

At this point, it appeared Pepe had come full circle under Arteta and was poised to play a key role this season despite two major announcements from the club in the summer.

But even with Smith Rowe signing a new contract, Martin Odegaard joining permanently from Real Madrid window and the subsequent assumptions that the pair would make up Arsenal’s best-attacking midfield trio alongside Saka in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the first month of the season hinted at Pepe being one of Arteta’s undroppables.

Aside from the Carabao Cup third round win over AFC Wimbledon, Pepe started every game he was available for – he was ruled out of the Manchester City trip because of illness – up until the North London Derby at the end of September.

Since losing his place in the side to Saka, the 26-year-old has seemingly been pushed closer and closer to the exit door.

He’s made just one Premier League start in the past two months and hasn’t come off the bench in the last five in a row – despite Arsenal trailing in three of those.

Pepe is at an age where he should be a regular in any side and is reaching the infamous ‘sign or sell’ territory as he will have 24 months left on his contract at the end of the season.

Some Arsenal supporters thought the writing was on the wall for the winger when Gabriel Martinelli came on ahead of him when Saka needed to come off against Newcastle and there’s a feeling that another transfer hint was dropped in the 2-1 loss at Everton on Monday night.

Despite this stance, the former England U21 international has still played more minutes than Pepe in the past two games and Arteta’s explanation provides a clue as to what the winger needs to do to be in favour again.

“He does every day in training what you see him do here. Every single day. That’s why I picked him.”

Whilst these comments imply that Pepe needs to do more in training, it’s just pure speculation at this point as Arteta could easily punish the winger by leaving him out of matchday squads altogether if this was the case.

But Pepe can take a leaf out of Nketiah’s book in order to save his Arsenal career. Up until the Man United game the striker hadn’t even made a Premier League appearance this season and had only made a matchday squad on two occasions.

Yet despite rejecting a contract offer, he has been brought in from the cold recently which shows all is not lost for the Arsenal no.19.

Whether he needs to step up the intensity at London Colney or make an impact off the bench when he next gets a chance, Pepe could still have a future in north London.

Even if things look rather bleak at the moment.