The Gunners boss has backed the club’s record signing to live up to his potential should he apply himself
Mikel Arteta has challenged Arsenal’s much-maligned record signing Nicolas Pepe to show the work ethic and willingness to fulfil his “absolutely top” potential.
Pepe rose to prominence with Ligue 1 side Lille over the previous two seasons, scoring 35 top-flight goals for the club as he marked himself as a potential star of the future.
Although many of the world’s biggest clubs were said to be interested in him, Arsenal managed to bring the Ivory Coast international to England in July, making him the costliest signing in their history at a reported £72 million.
However, in 16 Premier League matches since, Pepe has only managed three assists and two goals, with his general performances falling some way short of expectations.
New Arsenal coach Arteta is credited with having a big impact on the improvements of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane at Manchester City, and he is confident Pepe can find a similar level if he applies himself.
“I think, obviously, it was a big change to come from France to here,” Arteta told reporters ahead of Sunday’s clash with Chelsea.
“As well, he found a team that, in the moment he wasn’t performing at his best, the environment for him to settle wasn’t ideal, so it’s not only about him.
“We’re here to help him. If he’s willing to learn, to work hard, I assure you he has the potential be top, absolutely top.
“He showed in two or three actions [in the 1-1 draw with Bournemouth on December 26] how good he can be, but he has to be consistent.”
It was put to Arteta that Pepe is simply suffering from a lack of confidence, though the Spaniard suggested belief works both ways as he highlighted the importance of the collective in getting players to reach their desired level.
“The problem with confidence is he’s only confident if he plays, or he has [the] confidence [of] the manager if he trains well enough to convince me to have confidence in him. I think it has to be a mix between the two,” he added.
“But the overall structure, the way we play and approach the game and the things we do on these pitches is going to help them [the players].
“We can’t demand the strikers or attacking players to generate things like [the flick of a switch] – they have to have the play that sustains everything together and arrive in better positions as many times as possible to then be able to create as many situations as we want.”
After hosting Chelsea on Sunday, Manchester United are Arsenal’s visitors on New Year’s Day. The Gunners then face Leeds United in the FA Cup on January 6 at Emirates Stadium.