Mikel Arteta thinks things are beginning to click for Nicolas Pepe at Arsenal but he recognises the winger still has elements of his game that can be improved.
The Ivorian netted from the penalty spot at Bramall Lane – his eighth goal of the season – to help the Gunners beat Sheffield United 2-1 and secure a place in the FA Cup semi-final.
The 23-year-old might have done even more damage with two further chances in the first half and was still going strong late in the game with a cameo in the build=up to Dani Ceballos’ winner.
After the match, the boss admitted he was really pleased by the efforts of the club’s record signing going forward and in defence.
“I’m very excited about what he can bring (in the future) and what he’s bringing to the team this season,” he said.
“I think he’s made a click and I think he realises what he needs to do for the team when we don’t have the ball.
“I’m so pleased today, you’ve seen his defensive actions were incredible with what he’s doing, and then with the ball he gives us that creativity and flair that we need and big teams need.
“He’s always unpredictable with what can happen when he’s got the ball at his feet, so I think he’s [heading] in the right direction.”
Pepe has now contributed to 16 goals; an encouraging return given a tough debut campaign that has seen him in and out of the side under three different coaches.
The potential is clear for all to see, he now needs to improve his consistency.
“I really liked him from the past,” said Arteta. “I didn’t know him personally, but I think he is a player with incredible potential, but he needs to be decisive in every game and he needs to take care of moments in the game when he disconnects himself a little bit.
“He cannot do that, and I will be very persistent with him to try to change that because at his best, he can make the difference for the team.
He added: “It’s very important to try and understand a player and find out what his feelings are, how hard it’s been to adapt to a new country and a language that he doesn’t understand.
“He’s very willing, he’s such a nice boy and he’s always smiling, always positive around everybody. He’s a bit of a free spirit, but that’s good! We need all kinds of characters in the team and now he’s showing his commitment to us.”
Something of an introvert, Pepe appears to be one of those guys who is more likely to react positively to an arm around the shoulder than a rollicking. Arteta doesn’t mind that, he’s just keen for his players to feel supported in what they do.
“I don’t know how he [Pepe] was feeling before, we just try to produce the right amount for players and try to treat them a little bit individually for their needs, and hopefully we are in the right direction with Nico and that he can feel our total support.
“The only aim from us basically is to try and improve him and make him decisive for the team.”