Mikel Arteta says Arsenal decided to loan Nicolas Pepe to Nice because he couldn’t guarantee the Ivorian the necessary playing time to keep him happy.
The winger returns to Ligue 1 hoping to get his career back on track having fallen out of favour at the Emirates over the course of the last 12 months.
By the time he returns to the club, he’ll only have a year left on his contract and the Gunners are expected to sell him at a big loss.
“It’s been three years and he some good moments, some others where he hasn’t really contributed much in terms of minutes,” explained Arteta in his pre-Fulham press conference.
“We decided for every party it was the best decision to allow him to go. He needs to play football.
Arteta added: “He needs his minutes, he’s been craving minutes, he’s been talking to me a lot about it.
“I can’t guarantee that right now for what he was he was looking for. At some stage, if you extend that period for too long then frustration comes in, the level of performance won’t be what we want so we decided it was the best thing to do.”
Asked if the club-record £72 million fee that was paid to Lille in 2019 weighed heavy on Pepe’s shoulders, the boss continued:
“I don’t know, I think Nico has tried to deal with that in the best possible way. Obviously, he’s not responsible for the price that a club pays for him.
“He’s tried everything, his attitude is just phenomenal, you just have to meet the person. You have to love him for the way he is but then the decision you have to make on the pitch and who you select, we have made other decisions and obviously, that has had an impact in terms of the chance to prove his quality.”
Struggling to find a buyer for a player for whom the club paid so much is certainly a chastening moment for the Gunners, even if the driving force behind the deal, former Head of Football Raul Sanllehi, was let go some time ago.
For Arteta, the deal is one of many that highlights the unscientific nature of recruiting players.
“The club or whoever decides to bring in players all the time, whether I’m involved or whoever, it’s always with the best intentions because we believed.
“They believed at the time that it was the best player in the market to have an impact for the club. Sometimes it’s not that easy and you see that everywhere. You get a top, top player, you put him in a different context and suddenly it doesn’t work.
“This industry is complicated, we try to minimise the risks as much as possible but at the end of the day, they are not machines, they are human beings and they need all the factors to go right to fulfil their potential.”
Having allowed Pepe to leave, attention now turns to finding a replacement. Arsenal have been linked with a number of candidates this summer with the latest being Wolves’ Portugal international Pedro Neto. While Arteta wouldn’t be drawn on specific names, he reiterated the club’s commitment to trying to execute a long-standing plan.
“If we can implement the plan that we have, we will try to do it. In that plan, that’s something that could happen, it’s a reality and we’ve been preparing the last two months in order to achieve that, whether it’s possible or not, we will see.
“At the start of the window, we signed players before getting other players out. Now we’ve done something different. We’ve let a player go and will maybe be able to recruit somebody. But it’s not a guarantee because the player is still not here. What I guarantee is the day that window closes, for me this is the best team in the world and I will try to get the best out of them.”