Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has claimed that Nicolas Pepe is showing an exciting new level following his Africa Cup of Nations campaign.
The winger arrived in north London in the summer of 2019 after the Gunners spent a club-record £72million on him. But while he has proved a regular feature for Arsenal since then, he has never consistently stood out.
As a result, the Gunners have faced calls from pundits such as Paul Merson to sell Pepe.
The 26-year-old also had links with a move away in January. Lyon and Marseille both reportedly made proposals to bring the former Lille man back to Ligue 1.
However, Pepe stayed put last month and instead put his focus on Ivory Coast’s AFCON campaign. The winger scored two goals and assisted another as his country reached the last 16.
That run in fact mirrored a goalscoring streak Pepe went on at the end of last season when he scored five Premier League goals in his final three matches.
Arteta consequently believes that Pepe now has renewed confidence, telling a press conference on Friday: “Since he has come back from AFCON I think I have seen a different Nico as well.
“I don’t know what it is, probably he has realised the importance of the end of the season for him. He had a brilliant end of the season last year. He can replicate that.
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“We need him at his best because everybody is going to contribute. We are a really short squad at the moment and we need it and hopefully he has understood that we want to play him.
“I don’t want to have a player like him sitting on the bench and not using him and the moment I have chances, I want to give him a chance.”
Indeed, Pepe will, as it stands, become a more senior Arsenal attacker at the end of this season.
Striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left for Barcelona on a free transfer in January. Eddie Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette, meanwhile, are set to leave as free agents in the summer.
Nicolas Pepe can cement Arsenal role with strong run
Pepe has never established himself as a standout forward in the Arsenal ranks.
However, he can do just that with a strong run until the end of this season.
Arsenal’s attacking ranks will likely enjoy a shake-up this summer with a new striker targeted. Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Inter’s Lautaro Martinez are reportedly on Arteta’s radar.
As such, if Pepe can maintain his strong form this term, he can make sure he entertains a strong role in the future of Arteta’s team.