Mikel Arteta has faith Nicolas Pepe can star for Arsenal
Mikel Arteta is convinced Nicolas Pepe can overcome his underwhelming start at Arsenal to develop into a world-class talent.
Ivory Coast forward Pepe has endured a difficult transition to Premier League football following a summer move from French club Lille for £72million and done little to justify his club-record price tag.
Arteta opted to give the 24-year-old just eight minutes of action as a substitute during his maiden match as Gunners head coach in the 1-1 Boxing Day draw at Bournemouth.
The Spaniard, who played a prominent role in the development of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane at former club Manchester City, feels Arsenal’s struggles have contributed to the player’s failure to impress.
Arteta will on Sunday take charge of his new team for the first time at the Emirates Stadium when London rivals Chelsea visit, and he has urged Pepe to listen to advice and focus on improvement in order to realise his potential.
“I think it was obviously a big change for him to come here from France,” said Arteta.
“As well, he found a team that in that moment wasn’t performing at their best, probably the environment for him to settle wasn’t ideal.
“It’s not only about him. We are here to help him. If he’s willing to learn, if he’s willing to work hard, I am sure he has potential to be top, absolutely top.
“He showed in two or three actions already (against Bournemouth) how good he can be. But he has to be consistent.”
Pepe has featured in 16 of the Gunners’ 19 top-flight fixtures, making 10 starts.
After 22 goals saw him finish second only to Paris St Germain forward Kylian Mbappe in last season’s Ligue 1 scoring charts, he has managed just two so far in the top flight.
He was guilty of a glaring miss during the 1-0 defeat on Sheffield United on October 21, a result which kick-started a wretched run of form that led to the dismissal of Unai Emery and is yet to be halted.
Arteta, who was named Emery’s permanent successor on December 20, admits it will not be a straightforward process to provide Pepe with the belief to succeed.
“The problem with confidence is he’s confident only if he plays,” said Arteta.
“If he trains well enough to convince me, then I have confidence in him. It has to be a mix between the two.
“We can’t demand the strikers or the attacking players to generate things like this,” he added with a click of his fingers.
“They have to have the play sustained behind them, to tie everything together.
“We need to arrive in better positions as many times as possible for them to be able to create as many situations as we want.”
Arsenal, who spent Christmas in the bottom half of the table for the first time since 1983, remain in 11th position ahead of the clash with Frank Lampard’s Blues.
The out-of-form Gunners have won only one of their previous 14 fixtures in all competitions.