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Mikel Arteta admits Arsenal fans won’t see the best of Nicolas Pepe until he can cement a regular place in his side, but insists the club’s record signing must earn the right to be considered an automatic starter.
Much was expected of the Ivory Coast international when the supposedly cash-strapped Gunners shelled out £72million sign one of European football’s most highly rated wingers from Lille.
Pepe struggled to win the trust of Unai Emery, who reportedly wanted to sign Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha instead, but has been a near constant presence in the Arsenal forward line since Arteta’s appointment.
Despite some promising moments, particularly in the New Year’s Day win over Manchester United, the goals and assists have been few and far between but Arteta is confident the 24-year-old will come good.
Speaking ahead of Sunday’s Premier League match against Newcastle, Arteta said: ‘First of all he needs the right structure behind him to be able to provide the moments of quality and winning games, whether it’s assists, goals, dribbles or whatever it is.
‘Afterwards he needs to have a much clearer picture of the things that are happening on the pitch, why they are happening and how he can solve them.
I think he’s in the process of doing that. ‘He hasn’t played 12 or 15 games in a row, which is a massive thing for a player in those positions which are more difficult on the pitch to make an impact in games, he needs to earn that with his performances.
‘He was in France and was one of the biggest stars in the league. He made an incredible year. ‘He comes here and a lot of people didn’t even know him and you paid that price tag. So for him to put his brain into this picture and solve all this is not easy. And he’s a really young player.’