Mikel Arteta has backed Nicolas Pepe to bounce back from Sunday’s red card against Leeds and says Thursday’s Europa League clash with Molde is a perfect opportunity to show what he’s made of.
The Spaniard was incensed by the way the Ivorian got himself sent off in an off-the-ball clash with Ezgjan Alioski but he’s prepared to forgive and forget after the player offered a public apology to his teammates and the supporters.
Facing the press in Norway, Arteta said: “We’ve all had disappointing reactions in our playing careers and obviously we were frustrated because when you play against a team like Leeds for a long time with 10 men, it makes a huge difference. Even more with the way they play.
“He [Pepe] had a really good reaction, the way he apologised, the way he understood his responsibility and hopefully tomorrow we can see the player that we want to see, and have a good reaction to help his team.”
Asked if the 25-year-old had apologised privately, he added: “Absolutely right, he did it. He did it personally and he did it publicly. That’s done. Let’s move on. We all make mistakes, we all make decisions when we are in the middle of the heat. It’s about the reaction, what we learn from it individually and as a team, and moving on. That’s it, we need to focus on the next game.”
When it was put to Arteta that some people believe Pepe’s Arsenal career is hanging by a thread, the boss was pretty dismissive.
“No, it’s absolutely not [the end of his Arsenal career after the red card]. It’s not about that and I don’t like that type of statement. I will give Nico my full support all the time.
“He knows where he has to improve and we all know his qualities. He has some responsibility, I have a lot of responsibility, which is to get the best out of him and get the best position for him, the best areas where he can do what he can do with the ball. I cannot fault his effort at all.
“You see the way he strives for the team, the way he’s working, it’s been the best since he’s been at the club. But there have been some aspects he can do better in because he has the ability.
“That’s where I’m going to put the pressure on him to deliver what he can do. To say it’s a threat for him to finish his [Arsenal] career… it’s not at all like that.”
Arteta went on to reaffirm that getting the best out of Pepe, doesn’t just come down to the player. It’s a test of his credentials as a coach.
“Absolutely [it’s a joint-responsibility],” said the boss. “The club made a huge investment on him and people expect a lot from him because he has this quality.
“I said many times with the strikers and attacking players, it’s the most difficult thing to be consistent when you have to create, when you have to unlock the door, when you have to score goals or get assists.
“This is why he’s here and he needs to embrace this challenge, and go for it. We have to provide the best possible and ideal scenarios for him to be able to do that.”