Heading into his second season in north London, expectations remain high for Nicolas Pepe.
Arriving as Arsenals record signing for £72million, he was under scrutiny throughout his debut campaign in red and white. Scoring eight goals and 10 assists didn’t blow away those watching across the Premier League, however, as the season went on, he grew into his role on the right of Arsenal’s attacking trident.
Expected to be one of Mikel Arteta’s key men this season, it was a surprise to see the 25-year-old benched for the first game of the season against Fulham, despite only playing one behind closed doors friendly against Aston Villa.
Instead, Willian started in his usual position and stole the show, playing a major part in all three of Arsenal’s goals on the day and even hitting the post in the first half.
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Making such an instant impact on his debut, Willian’s performance raised more questions over Pepe’s role in the side this season, but Arteta ensured this isn’t going solely an issue that needs addressing by Pepe.
“Well, it’s not for Nico, I think it’s all the players that were on the bench and the ones that we had to leave at home. They have to raise their level and then the performances of the club are going to improve,” he said in his post-match press conference.
“This is what I demand. I’m really happy with all the boys in training but selection is getting more complicated. As well, we just have 18 players in the squad, it makes it very difficult.”
As has been the case since he walked through the door, Arteta appears ready to give places in the side to whoever proves they deserve it most.
In his nine months in charge, this philosophy has been best illustrated by Ainsley Maitland-Niles. The 23-year-old was crucial as an inverted right-back early in the Spaniard’s reign but…