Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has admitted Nicolas Pepe has been less than satisfied with a more restricted role this season.
The Ivorian winger, who joined the Gunners for £72m from Lille in 2019, has started just five Premier League games this campaign, making a further three appearances from the bench.
He just reminded his manager what £72m gets you after bagging a brace and providing a further two assists as Arsenal cruised past Sunderland 5-1 in the League Cup quarter-final on Tuesday night, with the Londoners getting Liverpool in the semi-final draw.
Incredibly, that was Pepe’s first start for the club since October 26 — the previous round of the League Cup against Leeds United — moving further down the pecking order as promising youngsters Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe continue to shine under Arteta.
The club’s record signing was in scintillating form earlier this week and provided two assists of the highest quality, first nutmegging Sunderland left-back Denver Hume to tee up Eddie Nketiah, before setting up Hale End wonderkid Charlie Patino.
It was a gentle reminder of Pepe’s skill-set, but given the quality of the opposition, coming up against a club slogging it out in League One, the Ivorian is unlikely to nudge his way to the front of the queue in that single showing alone.
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Arteta has now confessed that Pepe has not been best pleased with the reduced minutes he has been receiving this campaign, though he did stress that the 26-year-old has shown a hunger and appetite to fight for a first-team place at Arsenal.
“A player that doesn’t play, if he’s happy you have a big problem and Nico has not been happy,” said Arteta.
“He’s been trying to challenge us and asking us for more minutes because this is what he wants to do, and rightly so, and this is the attitude that we want from our players.”