Mikel Arteta believes that Nicolas Pepe can reach the “next level” thanks to an improvement in his mentality recently.
Pepe has struggled to live up to his price tag since completing a club-record transfer to Arsenal in 2019.
He made just 22 starts in his first Premier League season. Although he contributed a respectable five goals and six assists, many were expecting more from him.
This season, he has started just eight games in the league so far. A low point came when he was sent off against Leeds in November.
Arsenal play the return fixture against the same opponents on Sunday, and if Pepe plays, he will be hoping to make a better impression this time.
After scoring two goals in his last four games, Pepe has the confidence of his manager Arteta.
Arteta explained: “There is a click for him in his mentality, how he is approaching every training session, importance of every action in the game. I really like his attitude.
“What he’s done in recent weeks has been much better. He still has a lot of room to improve and he’s willing to do that so I’m expecting him to go to the next level very soon.”
Another player who has been on the fringes of first-team action this season has been Gabriel Martinelli.
After picking up an injury in the summer, the young striker has been unable to build up continuity after his impressive debut season.
Arteta said of the Brazilian’s lack of involvement: “Well, he came back, he did really well and then he picked up another injury.
“It took him a while to come back. And now it’s about getting the rhythm and earning his place in the team like anybody else and when he has the opportunities.
“Don’t forget we played him. Last time against Manchester United he started ahead of other players. So it’s not that he’s not having the opportunities.”
Martinelli still seems to have a bright future at the Emirates Stadium, but one youngster who may be on his way out is Folarin Balogun.
The attacker is out of contract at the end of the season. Despite Arteta regularly saying he wants Balogun to stay, there are plenty of rumours about where he will move.
The latest link was to Juventus, but Arteta insisted once more that Balogun could yet stay.
He said: “No, I’m still very positive that Flo is going to stay with us and it’s what we’re trying to do as a club, and it’s what I’m trying to do as a manager.
“As far as I know from last week, the player wants to be here.”
Arteta discusses Arsenal priorities
Arsenal go into their match against Leeds at the weekend one point below their opponents in the table.
After the Leeds game, they will face Benfica in the Europa League, which at present looks a more likely route into the Champions League.
However, Arteta dismissed that he was prioritising one competition over the other, even though he acknowledged the importance of the Europa League.
He said: “The priority is Leeds and then we go back to Europe. It’s a competition that we know can give us access to what we want.
“There is still a long way to go. It’s still a very strange year as well with the locations where we are going to play those games. And let’s go step by step.”