After Nicolas Pepe got himself sent off against Leeds in November’s 0-0 draw at Elland Road, Mikel Arteta delivered a damning verdict of the player’s behaviour.
“Unacceptable” was the term the Spaniard used to describe the Ivorian’s conduct after he was embroiled in a costly altercation with Ezgjan Alioski. “He stops his own progress with his behaviour,” he added.
While the comments were made in the heat of the moment, they suggested the winger’s stock, which was already low after a run of bad form, had dropped even further in the eyes of the boss.
On the eve of another showdown with Marcelo Bielsa’s side, Pepe seems to be in a much better place. While there’s still much room for improvement, Arteta likes how the player has bounced back.
Asked what more can be expected of the £72 million signing, the boss said: “Again, that he can maintain that level now for months, not weeks. I think he’s done much much better.
“I think there has been a click with him, even in his mentality, how he’s approaching every training session, the importance of every action in the game and how he can sustain his focus and his determination during games.
“I really like his attitude. What’s he’s done in the last few weeks I think it’s been much better. He still has a lot of room to improve and grow and he’s willing to do that so I’m expecting him to go to the next level very soon.”
Sunday’s clash at the Emirates is a real mid-table affair. A win for the Gunners would see us climb above Leeds into 10th place, albeit having played a game more than the Elland Road outfit.
Given this is Leeds’ first campaign in the top-flight since 2004, Arteta has been impressed by their adventurous style.
“They are a really brave, dynamic and attacking side,” he said. “I think they are a really exciting side, a great coach, great coaching staff who are all involved and a bunch of players who believe 100 per cent in what they do and they just go in every game with the same energy and enthusiasm to get the points. I think they deserve more points than they have in the table at the moment.
He added: “When you look at a lot of the game they’ve lost and how they’ve lost them, it’s pretty incredible as well. Maybe they haven’t deserved those defeats. They’ve been really punished on set-pieces as well, which is one key area there. But overall what they’ve produced in open-play compared to the opponent, it’s difficult to see games where they have produced less than the opponent.”