Mikel Arteta hasn’t been short of surprises when it comes to his team selections since taking charge of Arsenal in December.
While the patterns of play and the roles needed for them to reap real rewards have become clearer, with Bukayo Saka, Kieran Tierney and Ainsley Maitland-Niles in particular, the Spaniard is still looking for ways to keep his opponents guessing.
The latest player to be moulded into Arteta’s vision for the future is Nicolas Pepe. Signed as a right winger, that is where he has spent the majority of his time at since joining Arsenal last summer, and despite only starting in the Carabao Cup this term, where he has continued his promising start to life in north London.
In the Gunners’ second trip to Anfield in four days, however, Pepe was used of the left wing. Naturally left footed, Arsenal fans have become accustomed to the 25-year-old cutting in off the right as opposed to being used as a more direct option off the left, but against Liverpool, he showed it could be a profitable option for the side.
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With Arteta very much laying the groundwork for Pepe to have a more consistent impact down the right last season, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang remaining a force when drifting off the left, this may not be a regular occurrence, but with the jigsaw pieced together down that flank, it may be the basis for a strong Plan B/C.
As shapes go, the roles of each player were clear but they didn’t necessarily fit into a conventional formation. Pepe acted as a left winger and had Bukayo Saka operating in the spaces behind/inside him as a wing-back/central midfielder while there was no natural winger on the right.
Instead, Joe Willock filled similar spaces to Saka when Arsenal were in possession which helped the Gunners move up the pitch, but the gap ahead of him often had to…