The Arsenal team was away from the Premier League in Dubai for warm-weather training with Mikel Arteta. During this time, the Arsenal fandom was kept up-to-date with the latest news through their various Social Media platforms. They were both waiting for the long-awaited tweet from a well-established journalist confirming that they had triggered Alexander Isak’s release clause or discovered the next Robin van Persie on a club-record contract, but neither came through.
Nicolas Pepe was watching his AFCON dream come to an end on penalties the whole time, before joining up with his club colleagues in the Middle East. Despite being mostly overlooked during the month of January, his exit from the Arsenal squad has been going on for far longer than that.
There are no Arsenal fans who can honestly declare that they have missed him in the three and a half months that have passed. That is since he last started a Premier League game for the club. That isn’t really to knock him down. Rather, it is a reflection of Bukayo Saka’s continuous competence in the field.
Mikel Arteta’s next major task at Arsenal will be finding a method to make use of Nicholas Pepe with the lack of other centre-forwards
In many respects, he is still the same. Assuming that the final 17 matches of the season go well – then Saka will spend every minute of every single game on the right side.
Pepe, on the other hand, still has a role to play. In reality, he will play a significant part between now and the conclusion of the season, since Arsenal will need his services, even though some may loathe the thought of it.
Pepe’s lack of playing time this season doesn’t take much explanation: he is not Arteta’s player, Arteta doesn’t care for him, and Saka is light years ahead of him in practically every aspect of the game.
He won’t be starting many games, if any at all, assuming everyone stays healthy, but on a group where the two attackers have combined for just two open play league goals this season, getting a tune out of Pepe becomes a fascinating and necessary obstacle for Arteta to overcome.
If Arsenal is in desperate need of a late winner or an equaliser in a match, the natural instinct is to look to the replacements for assistance. The Arsenal squad will not have this cutting edge to pick from off the bench, unlike their top-four competitors, because all of their game-changers will be on the field. To make some use of a player who may already be considering his next move in the summer, Arteta’s management of Pepe and the way he makes him feel are key components of the team’s overall strategy.
Will Mikel Arteta do the right thing now?
Because, as much as he makes you want to rip your hair out, he makes a reappearance in the latter third of the film with some very devastating scenes.
Systematically, Arteta has options that could highlight the 26-year-old’s finer characteristics – such as playing Pepe on the left and moving Martinelli to the centre – while he also has the option of bringing on someone who will slow Arsenal’s play down even further and, if anything, reduce their chances of scoring.
You’re aware of what you’re getting with Pepe, but you’re also unaware of what you’re not getting. There will never be a clean 90 minutes without something annoying to mention. But his finest moments have been known to occur when he is at his lowest ebb. Beyond the immediate concerns in the field, there is little doubt about what Arteta desires. And Arsenal needs, the transfer of Pepe. If he is to have any chance of recouping part of the £72m, he must not just be playing; but must be playing really well.
If it means wrapping an arm over his shoulder or kicking him in the shins, so be it. They’ll never get a move elsewhere and will stink up the bench if they don’t improve, he’ll figure it out. He’ll find a way, albeit it’s probably not the most pleasant route.