Mikel Arteta insists he’ll keep supporting Willian and Pepe despite the pair continuing to underwhelm when given first team opportunities.
The Spaniard turned to the Brazilian and Ivorian to add attacking thrust to his much-rotated starting lineup at Saint Mary’s but neither enhanced their reputation as Arsenal exited the FA Cup with a 1-0 defeat to Southampton.
Both players look bereft of confidence in a limp first half and while Pepe, our £72 million club-record signing, did create a couple of chances for Eddie Nketiah after the break, neither looked capable of taking the game by the scruff of the neck.
Unsurprisingly, the pair were the focus of a number of questions in the post-game press conference, and the boss did his best to defend them.
“What I am saying is they try to give their best,” said Arteta. “You could see how hard they are trying, with more or less quality, but the intention is there and the willingness is there.
“This is what we demand them to do. And after the decision-making, the final pass, the final goal, the opportunities they have, it is the end product and that’s the hardest thing in football.”
Asked whether the pair can turn things around, he added: “I hope so. We are going to keep supporting them as much as we possibly can, as a coaching staff and as a club because that is what they need.
“They need to keep working hard and try to improve their performances. I want to think positively and think that they are going to reach their level very soon.
“And the way they train every day is to reach that level and we are here to support them again – and not to think in a negative way.”