The Gunners boss has jumped to the defence of an Ivorian winger who has come under a lot of scrutiny since his arrival at Emirates Stadium
Mikel Arteta insists Nicolas Pepe is “trying his best” to live up to exceptions at Arsenal, but also admits that the club’s record signing is “suffering” amid widespread criticism.
Pepe completed a £72 million ($97m) move to Emirates Stadium from Lille in August 2019, with Arsenal winning the race for his signature ahead of a host of top European clubs.
The Ivory Coast international established himself as arguably the most dangerous winger in Ligue 1 during his time at Stade Pierre Mauroy, scoring 37 goals in 79 appearances, but has so far been unable to reach the same heights in north London.
The 25-year-old has only recorded 13 goals in his first 61 outings for the Gunners, including just five this season, with his latest effort coming from the penalty spot in a 2-1 defeat at Everton on Sunday.
Pepe has been in and out of Mikel Arteta’s line up in recent months, and he invited the wrath of supporters after being handed a rare start against Leeds United at Elland Road on November 22.
He was sent off for headbutting Ezgjan Alioski before Arsenal scraped a 0-0 draw, leading to more question marks over his attitude and commitment to the club’s cause.
The former Lille star was dropped to the bench as the Gunners fell to a 4-1 Carabao Cup quarter-final defeat against Manchester City on Tuesday night, but Arteta jumped to the defence of the under-fire attacker in his pre-match interview.
“He is hurting, he is suffering – believe me, I am close to him – and he is trying his best,” the Spanish head coach told reporters.
“He feels the responsibility because be knows why the club brought him here and he wants to deliver that.”
Arteta added: “I would always defend my players. Whatever I have to discuss with him, it will be internally.
“Pepe wants to do his best and help as much as he possibly can. This is what I am interested in.
“It is my job and if he doesn’t, it is my fault. He is trying his best. We all know Nico and sometimes his body language makes him feel bad.”
Pepe’s next chance to prove his doubters wrong could come when Arsenal play host to Chelsea in a crucial London derby clash on Saturday.
Arteta’s men will be desperate to bring a seven-match winless streak in the Premier League to a close against the Blues, who are currently 11 points ahead of them in the table