Unai Emery has said Nicolas Pepe’s impressive cameo against Vitoria in the Europa League was “important” for Arsenal’s record signing.
Pepe came off the bench and scored two brilliant free-kicks – including one in the last minute – as Arsenal came from 2-1 down to beat their Portuguese visitors at the Emirates on Thursday night.
How has Pepe started at Arsenal? Five things to know…
- Pepe has generally struggled to adapt to life in the Premier League since joining Arsenal.
- The forward had scored just once, a penalty, before Thursday night.
- On Thursday he found the net with two free-kicks against Vitoria in the Europa League.
- And Emery hopes the Ivorian will kick now on and settle in English football.
- Only Wilfried Zaha (41) has completed more dribbles than Pepe (30) in the Premier League this season.
The Ivorian, who joined Arsenal for a club record £72m from Lille in the summer, has struggled to adjust to the Premier League since arriving.
His difficult start was compounded when he missed a huge opportunity to score his first goal from open play against Sheffield United on Monday, shooting wide when it looked easier to score.
But after his extraordinary brace in Europe, Pepe has been backed by his manager to build on his breakthrough performance when Arsenal host Crystal Palace this weekend.
Arsenal 3-2 Vitoria FT:
Pass accuracy: 84%-69%
Chances created: 12-11
Nicolas Pepe comes on. Nicolas Pepe scores. Arsenal get the three points. https://t.co/CLrgRtGjp9
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 24, 2019
“On the pitch he is feeling better,” Emery said.
“On Thursday to play 20 minutes, scoring two goals and help us win the game is important for him and for us.
“Hopefully in training on Saturday and in the game on Sunday he can keep moving ahead.”
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Zaha provides an interesting narrative
Wilfried Zaha was on the scoresheet when Palace recorded a surprise 3-2 win at the Emirates last season, and the winger’s performance likely played a part in Arsenal’s summer pursuit of him.
This weekend, Arsenal face Zaha for the first time since the summer transfer speculation, which ended when the Gunners refused to meet Palace’s valuation of their talisman.
Arsenal ended up signing Pepe instead, and both players will be looking to make headlines on Sunday.
Interestingly, the duo sit top of the dribbling charts in the Premier League this season; Zaha has completed 41 take-ons while Pepe has completed 30.
The pair of Ivory Coast internationals both have the potential to continue an interesting narrative on Sunday – will Zaha make Arsenal rue their decision to turn their attentions to Pepe?