Arsenal winger Nicolas Pepe has admitted that he is frustrated by his lack of starting opportunities under Mikel Arteta this season. He has said that playing more would give him a reason to ‘smile again’ and has implied he is not currently happy at the Gunners as a result.
Pepe, who remains Arsenal’s club record signing following his £72m arrival from Lille in the summer of 2019, has made 12 appearances in all competitions so far in 2020/21. But most of his six starts have been in the Europa League or Carabao Cup, while he has only started once in the Premier League.
32-year-old fee transfer Willian has largely been used in his favoured right-wing role instead.
“My goal is to play more. Have a little more playing time. A player who plays is happy. For me, I would like to play a little more to find a smile again,” Pepe told Canal+ while on international duty with Ivory Coast this week.
Pepe has said that one of his biggest frustrations is giving his all during a match or training session, only to be told that he will be back on the bench for the next game.
“[Arteta] wants me to be 100 per cent focused during the 90 minutes of the match. Afterwards, I see during training that I will be a substitute the following weekend,” the player said. "But the coach speaks to me, he also has assistants who are there for that. But it is frustrating for any player to be on the bench.”
Arteta himself has already twice recenty addressed Pepe’s absences from the starting XI, explaining that he is waiting for the 25-year-old to be more consistent and justify selection.
The Arsenal boss commented on the situation after the Gunners faced Dundalk in Europe.
“Obviously, [Pepe] has not been first choice in a lot of the games at the moment, but he's played quite a lot of the moments, some better than others. It's about finding the consistency,” he said.
“Not through the games, but during the games as well to be most instinctive and to be able to do the right things in many, many occasions where he has to make the right decisions on the pitch.
“Sometimes it's the simple things: the deliveries, the amount of situations he is able to create or attract and then make the right decision to keep evolving that final ball, the finishing, the positioning inside the box which he has to be more consistent at.”
Arteta made similar comments after the follow up Europa League game against Molde, again urging Pepe to find better consistency, without which he cannot command a regular starting place.
“Throughout the game, throughout 90 minutes, every ball, in every action and every time he's on the ball in the final third he [needs to] make a difference. And do it more and more and more,” Arteta explained after beating the Norwegians.
“The final product has to be better, not just from him but if you want to become a top, top team and score many more goals then it's something we have to put higher demands on at the moment.”