Nicolas Pepe was one of the Arsenal players that faced Brentford in our 2-0 defeat at the beginning of the season, but he gradually fell out of favour with Mikel Arteta and has only played in one League Cup game for the Gunners since October.
The Ivorian was rarely seen anywhere except on the bench, and it was fully expected that he would be one of the players off-loaded on loan in January, but he went off to AFCON and apparently Mikel Arteta refused to entertain any approaches for our most expensive signing.
Now it seems that Pepe is in Mikel Arteta’s plans in his much-reduced squad for the rest of the season. Pepe has recently proved his fitness after playing in 5 games at AFCON with the Ivory Coast (and scoring in 2 of the 3 games that he was a starter), and Arteta’s has now admitted that he is ready to bring the winger back into the fold. ‘Since he has come back from AFCON I think I have seen a different Nico as well,’ Arteta told the Metro.
‘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.
‘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.”
‘His attitude, his smile, the way he is communicating with everybody, his energy.
‘The way he has trained. His efficiency in training, his application. His energy has changed. I don’t know what it is. I think he felt important again.
‘Probably he felt like a proper football player that can win tournaments and felt: ‘Ok, this is me now’. And he needed that and I’m really pleased with that.’
So, with Martinelli suspended for today’s game, will Arteta be using this chance to give Pepe his first chance to impress today? He could even try him out as a centre-forward, as I have suggested before. Then he could leave Smith-Rowe in his usual place as a supersub..
WATCH Arteta discussing Brentford, Tomiyasu and the brilliant home support