Granit Xhaka has thrown his support behind Nicolas Pepe and told his team-mate to ‘come back stronger’ following his red card in Arsenal’s goalless draw with Leeds United.
The 25-year-old forward was given his marching orders for lashing out headbutting Ezgjan Alioski shortly after half-time at Elland Road and will be suspended for the Gunners’ next three Premier League matches against Wolves, Tottenham and Burnley.
Pepe did himself no favours with the sending off given he already appeared at a crossroads in his Arsenal career, just one year on from his club-record £72million move from Lille.
Mikel Arteta has been vocal with his criticism of Pepe’s lack of consistency and decision-making in recent weeks and the spotlight will be firmly on the Ivorian when he next appears in an Arsenal shirt.
‘I have let my team down at a crucial time of the game and there is no excuses for my behaviour,’ Pepe posted on Instagram on Monday afternoon.
‘I am deeply sorry and would like to apologise to the fans, my team-mates, my coach and everyone at the club.’
Arsenal midfielder Xhaka – no stranger to negative publicity himself – was quick to respond to Pepe’s post and reassured his team-mate that the whole squad were behind him.
‘Keep going brother. You come back stronger,’ Xhaka replied.
‘WE ARE WITH YOU.’
A furious Arteta gave Pepe an explosive dressing down in front of his team-mates at Elland Road and the pair will reportedly hold private talks on Tuesday.
‘Considering how early we got Pepe sent off we have to take it. I never like a draw but in the circumstances, it’s a point. It is unacceptable,’ Arteta told Sky Sports shortly after the final whistle.
‘The first half there were two different periods.
‘The game broke a bit, we started to give the ball away and led to them having the space to break.
‘The second half it was a matter of defending well and staying patient and using the pace of our players in the space they were leaving.
Asked to expand on Pepe’s headbutt, Arteta bluntly responded: ‘Unacceptable.’
The Gunners next face Molde in the Europa League and Pepe is available for the Group B clash as his suspension only applies in the Premier League.
But it remains to be seen whether Arteta will field the winger in Norway on Thursday evening.