Mikel Arteta brushed off suggestions that Nicolas Pepe could be feeling the weight of his club-record price tag after Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Dundalk but admitted the forward has to be more consistent and improve the ‘simple things’ in his game.
Pepe has made just one start in the Premier League this season, Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat at Manchester City earlier this month, but was given a chance to impress in Thursday night’s Europa League Group B clash at the Emirates.
The 25-year-old seized his opportunity in a team largely made up of fringe players and added to first-half goals from Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock with an unstoppable strike past Gary Rogers just seconds after the break.
Pepe has now been directly involved in six goals in his last eight appearances for the Gunners in the Europa League.
However, Pepe has flattered to deceive for much of his stay in north London and there many have suggested the Ivorian could struggling with the expectation and burden of his £72million price tag.
Asked whether Pepe is feeling the pressure of his club-record transfer fee, Arteta replied: ‘I don’t think he’s got that.
‘I think he’s so willing to do well and show everybody, first of all his team-mates, myself and the fans that he’s a player that can make the difference every week.
‘Obviously he’s not been first-choice in a lot of the games at the moment but, to be fair, he’s played quite a lot of moments, some better than others.
‘It’s about finding the consistency, not through the games but during the games as well to be able to do the right things in many occasions when he has to make the right decisions on the pitch.’
Arteta added: ‘It’s nothing to do with his attitude.
‘He’s a player that takes risks, he’s a very creative player and that’s the most difficult thing in football, when they all know what you can do. How much they want to prevent the space, the overloads they create to defend you as well.
‘So it’s complicated but sometimes it’s the simple things, the deliveries, the amount of situations that he’s able to create or attract and then make the right decision.
‘To keep evolving that phase of play, the finishing, the position inside the box.
‘He has to be more consistent. We are working on that and hopefully he will be doing that much more efficiently.
‘Knowing Nico and after speaking to him, I don’t think it’s (his price tag) is something that worries him too much. It’s about him hitting his best every single week.
‘This is where he believes he can do better and we have to try to help him.’
Arsenal take on an in-form Manchester United side this weekend and Arteta admitted some of his more peripheral players had made selection ‘difficult’ with their performances against Dundalk.
‘We have a large squad and I wanted to give opportunities to everybody,’ he explained.
‘There were players that have been really patient and training well and today they showed they are well prepared when we need them.
Today they made things more difficult for me for selection.
‘Sometimes when they don’t play it’s not something that they can do more., it’s because we have to choose players and sometimes we go for something else.
‘Sometimes it’s about the quality, sometimes it’s about the tactical plan that we have for the game but I’m very pleased for the performance and how they reacted today.’
‘But you have to react straightaway with a win, with this type of attitude and let’s get ready.
‘We go to Old Trafford and we try to win again.’