Mikel Arteta says Nicolas Pepe needs more time to overcome his struggles at Arsenal, suggesting that Wilfried Zaha was spot on about his criticism over the club’s transfer business.
The Ivory Coast winger joined in the summer of 2019 from Lille for a £72million fee and while he has produced moments of quality, a lack of consistency has impacted his time at the Emirates.
After Pepe scored eight goals during his debut campaign, the hope was for the club’s record signing to kick on but he has struggled in the Premier League this season and was recently sent off at Leeds.
“We need to help him to (succeed),” Arteta said. “In order to do that he needs minutes, he needs consistency in the team and when he has that, he needs to show he is capable of doing it.
“Let’s see how the next few months develop.”
Pepe has found the net three times in the Europa League this term but only made four league starts and cut a frustrated figure during Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Newcastle in the FA Cup before he was withdrawn with the tie goalless.
The 25-year-old has been an unused substitute in the Gunners’ last two top flight wins and Crystal Palace visit on Thursday with compatriot Wilfried Zaha set to lead the line for the Eagles.
Arsenal notably decided to sign Pepe over Zaha when Unai Emery was in charge, but current manager Arteta has called for patience.
He added: “I think it is hard to make judgement on some players that haven’t played many minutes over the last two or three weeks and to throw them in and expect them to be the best player on the pitch.
“I don’t think it happens and Nico tried. He tried all the game and had some really good moments – moments where he could have scored two or three goals.
“In a normal circumstance and with his ability in those positions, he puts the ball in the back of the net. He didn’t do it but I think his contribution overall was good.”
Arteta’s comments come after Zaha admitted last week that he was desperate to join Arsenal – and can’t understand why they didn’t make the “no-brainer” decision to sign him.
The Palace star had a discussion with then Arsenal boss Unai Emery ahead of the 2019/20 season, and he thought that he was on the way to sign for his boyhood club.
“I had a conversation with the manager, actually,” Zaha told Jamie Carragher on The Greatest Games podcast.
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“He was just like, ‘we don’t need to go through much’. He’s seen me play, he knows I can change games at any time and stuff like that. It was like, ‘yeah, we’d love to have you’.
“The conversation was rather straightforward because I’ve played against him when he’s managed Arsenal, he’s seen what I can do, he’s seen my work rate, what I can add to the team.
“Obviously, it was up to the club who they chose, and obviously they chose Pepe over me.”
Zaha says that Premier League clubs who know all about the players they come up against should look to be bringing in those players instead of taking gambles on stars from abroad who may not settle in to the division.
“I just think if there’s a player who plays in the Premier League who you see week in, week out, and you know what he does… I feel like it’s a no-brainer,” he said.
“The other leagues, I feel like they are totally different, in the Prem there are no easy games whatsoever. Every team is going to give you a run for your money. There’s no game where you’re going to go, ‘yeah, we’re going to win 5-0’.
“That’s my thought. I totally understand what you mean. I feel like when players come from abroad, I don’t know, they just have that edge with clubs, it’s just like [they say], ‘yeah, I may want him a bit more because he’s from there’.”
Indeed, Pepe’s struggles, and Arteta’s latest admission, suggests Zaha was right.