Thursday night’s Europa League action was notable for a number of reasons, not least the opportunity for some fringe players to show their quality.
We saw no better example of this than at the Emirates Stadium, where Joe Willock and Nicolas Pepe were among those auditioning for Premier League minutes during Arsenal’s 4-1 victory over Molde in the Europa League.
Pepe might not have been at his best for the full 90 minutes, but his goal and assist against the Norwegian side will have given Mikel Arteta food for thought ahead of this weekend’s match at home to Aston Villa.
The challenge for the £72million man, though, is to prove to his manager that he’s worthy of more action in the league on a consistent basis.
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Since arriving from Lille in 2019, Pepe has produced a number of impressive displays at home and in Europe.
The goal against Molde was his 11th in all competitions for the club, and that tally has included big goals in a win over Manchester United and the FA Cup quarter-final victory over Sheffield United last season.
The issue, though, has been consistency. The Ivorian is capable of moments of real magic, both with and without decisive end product, but he can also go missing at times.
Indeed, we saw both sides of the player on Thursday night, as he was quiet for the first half as Arsenal needed a Kristoffer Haugen own goal to ensure they went in level at the break, but took his goal brilliantly before laying on a goal for Willock as the clock ticked towards 90.
Many will point towards current members of Arsenal’s forward line and mention their own consistency this season, but the bar is sometimes lower for those with a place to lose as opposed to those with a place to claim: managers are often keen for consistency, so a performance from someone failing to make their case for a start can be more easily forgiven when…