Mikel Arteta is convinced Arsenal supporters will not have to wait long to see the best of Nicolas Pepe after the club record signing’s stuttering start to life in England.
Pepe has scored three goals and provided two assists in 21 Premier League appearances this season and was an unused substitute in Arsenal’s last match before the winter break, a 0-0 draw away to Burnley.
There have undoubtedly been flashes of the sort of quality that convinced Arsenal to spend £72million to prise Pepe away from Lille in the summer, most notably an exceptional display in the 2-0 win over Manchester United on New Year’s Day.
Consistency, however, has eluded Pepe. There are mitigating circumstances. The 24-year-old spent last summer with the Ivory Coast on their run to the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals, played no part in pre-season and only had a few days to familiarise himself with his new surroundings before the season began.
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Pepe would not be the first big money acquisition from France to struggle early on in north London. It took Robert Pires time to hit the ground running whilst fellow Ligue 1 imports such as Fabinho and Tanguy Ndombele have needed time to settle in a league of pace and physicality.
Still Arteta hopes that the best version of the forward is not far away.
Asked whether Arsenal supporters would see the best of Pepe next season, the Arsenal boss said: “I hope we can see it from now to the end of the season.
“But if you go through the list of top players that have come to this country, how disappointing they were for the first ten to 12 months then how incredible they were for the next five years, I think we could have a massive list here.
“It’s not easy to adapt to this league but he’s putting in the effort and he’s willing to do it. And it will come out.”
Pepe’s signing blew Arsenal’s previous record fee, £56million for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, out of the water and immediately launched the Lille forward into the 20 most expensive footballers even before he had even played in the Champions League.
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Even at the time Arsenal were insistent that the £72million was a long-term investment of whom immediate success should not necessarily be expected. Yet they would acknowledge that however they viewed Pepe others would expect of a player who cost the Gunners more than Frenkie de Jong set Barcelona back.
“The price that we paid for him puts him in a difficult position straight away because he’s going to be compared to players of that calibre [in terms of price],” Arteta conceded.
“First of all the team has to sustain his ability and give him as many opportunities as possible during games for him to be able to execute his qualities.
“The other thing is he has his own responsibility, that’s for sure. He has to be more consistent…