Mikel Arteta doesn’t believe that Nicolas Pepe is affected by his £72 million price tag but he does admit the player knows he can improve his game.
Handed a rare chance to start against Europa League minnows Dundalk, the Ivorian produced another middling performance before signing off with a stunning strike to cap Arsenal’s 3-0 victory.
His finish, arrowed into the top corner with his right foot from the edge of the box, was a rare moment of quality on a night when he regularly worked himself into promising situations only to give up possession too easily. [see goal here]
In his post-game press conference, Arteta was quick to encourage the 24-year-old to find more consistency in his game, but played down the pressure of his transfer fee.
“Well, knowing Nico and after speaking to him, I don’t think it’s something that worries him too much. It’s about him hitting his best every single week. I think this is where he believes he can do better and we have to try to help him.”
He added: “I don’t think he’s got that [pressure]. I think he’s so willing to do well and show everybody – first of all, his team-mates and myself – and also the fans that he is a player that can make the difference every week.
“Obviously, he’s not been first choice in a lot of the games at the moment but, to be fair, he’s played quite a lot of the moments, some better than others.
“It’s about finding the consistency. Not through the games, but during the games as well to be most instinctive and to be able to do the right things in many, many occasions where he has to make the right decisions on the pitch.”
The boss was eager to stress that he has no problem whatsoever with the way Pepe applies himself in training. Instead, he drew attention to the risk-taking nature of the winger’s game for his sometimes hit and miss performances.
“It’s nothing to do with his attitude,” he said. “He’s a player that takes risks. He’s a very creative player and this is the most difficult thing in football, when they all know what you can do as well and how much they want to prevent your space and the overloads that they generate to defend you as well.
“So to create situations for them is complicated, but sometimes it’s the simple things: the deliveries, the amount of situations he is able to create or attract and then make the right decision to keep evolving that final ball, the finishing, the positioning inside the box which he has to be more consistent at. We are working on that and hopefully he will be doing that much more efficiently.”
Obviously the Arsenal coaching staff have been analysing Pepe’s game closely, trying to figure out what he can do in one-on-one situations to give himself an advantage.
At Lille, the attacker made a habit of carrying the ball long distances on the break against backpeddling defenders. In contrast, in England, he regular picks the ball up on the right flank with a packed backline in front of him. With a preference for cutting inside onto his left foot, opponents seem to know how to combat favourite trick.
Varying up the way he takes on players is something Arteta wants to see more of.
“Yes, he’s been doing that recently a little bit more, going on the outside,” noted the boss.
“It’s something that he can do. It’s just about that one, he attracts people as well and frees someone else with the last pass or the last delivery, which foot he needs to use to attack the defenders as well sometimes to make things easier for him.
“His starting position, sometimes, is not right. But he’s trying really hard and he’s a player that loves to play the game and we need to give him more help to try to be more successful.”