Nicolas Pepe has been told his work-rate must improve dramatically and he needs to stop “wandering” his way through matches, with Bukayo Saka’s brilliant displays showing him exactly what must be done.
The Ivorian winger joined the Gunners in a club-record £72m deal from Lille in summer 2019. Now in his second season with Arsenal, he scored his 12th of the season as West Brom were beaten to confirm their relegation. That lit up an otherwise difficult week for the Gunners, who missed out on the Europa League final after a tepid draw with Villarreal.
Pepe’s goal, to be fair, was a good one. He cut inside and fired an unstoppable shot into the top corner from the edge of the box.
But Joe Cole, in his role as a pundit for BT Sport, says there was not much else on offer from Pepe. He wants the Ivorian to stop going missing in games. Cole also says he can learn a great deal from fellow Gunners star Saka.
“He plays in fits and starts Pepe,” Cole said on BT Sport.
“We’ve got a great angle up here and we were watching him, and he was so lacklustre.”
Looking at the display of Saka on the other flank, Cole said the youngster shows Pepe exactly what’s needed.
“Compare him to Saka on the other side who was full of energy and was vibrant.
“Pepe was wandering, after 30 minutes we were questioning what he was on the pitch for. But he has got the quality and that’s why you pay £70m for him because he can do things like that. You just need to see it more often.”
Saka’s display also earned praise from Mikel Arteta after the game, who says the young star gives him “a lot of joy”.
“Going forwards we know Saka is a threat, he gives you something unique,” Arteta beamed.
“He adapted. We believed we were going to attack against them and he gave us a lot of joy.
“We will try to win every match and see where we finish. The only thing we can do is win our games.”
Cole too admits he likes what he sees in Saka. He also had praise for another young gun, Emile Smith Rowe.
Cole added: “[Saka] was excellent, he was a thorn in the side. His movement was fantastic.
“He’s so direct, he drives into areas and he picks passes out all the time. He’s been Arsenal’s best player by a mile.
“Consistently running from outside to in. Smith Rowe, lovely movement, this is what Arteta wants.
“Little bit of movement, interchanging around the box.
“This is great vision [from Saka], he gets his head up and picks it out, and what a finish from Smith Rowe.
“Them two were the [shining] lights for Arsenal. The two young lads have really stood up tonight.”
Smith Rowe lauds Arsenal’s future star partnership
Smith Rowe was also happy with Arsenal’s display and admits he’s playing with Saka.
“We started a bit slow, our heads have been down for a couple of days. It was important for us to bounce back,” he said. “I felt we got into the game in the second half and we are really happy with the three points.
“It has been a dream playing for this club and to finally score my first goal – can’t be better.
“It’s been a difficult week but happy to get the three points. It has been really difficult for us as a team, it is not nice to lose in the semi-final of a tournament, it is important we keep our heads up.”
When asked about how much he enjoys his budding partnership with Saka, the youngster added: “So much, I was saying to him before that he had to assist me, I’ve assisted him a few times this season. It was good to get the goal together.
“We are all going to fight for each other until the end.”