Nicolas Pepe has a fair amount of making up to do with Arsenal supporters.
The Ivory Coast winger was shown a red card in their 0-0 draw with Leeds on Sunday, severely damaging their hopes on leaving Elland Road with three points.
Manager Mikel Arteta backed him after his dismissal and included him in the starting lineup against Molde in the Europa League on Thursday night, with a place in the knockout stages beckoning.
The Gunners started the game very brightly and left no doubts that they were well up for the fight. Reiss Nelson caused headaches for Molde defenders early on and wreaked havoc on the full backs whenever he had the ball at his feet.
Pepe was a real threat cutting inside onto his favoured left foot. The winger, hell-bent on redemption after his dismissal at the weekend, looked a real live wire going forward and helped contribute massively to Arsenal’s bright start.
Pepe’s influence on the game continued into the second half and a 25-yard curling effort hit the crossbar. He got his goal only two minutes later after being teed up by an inch perfect Joe Willock cross, atoning in some part for his dismissal against Leeds.
Arteta will be delighted with the reaction shown by a starting XI that had eight changes from the Leeds draw. What he will be most pleased about, however, is the determination and work rate Pepe showed throughout the 90 minutes.
The Spaniard had rallied around Arsenal’s £72m record signing before the Europa League fixture and left no doubts about his commitment to the player.
As quoted by the Daily Mail, he said: “I think he’s dealing with it the right way, the other day he had a reaction and when you’re out on that pitch it’s completely different to being outside when trying to understand it, but he has reacted the right way and hopefully I can see a player that shows that every week. It’s in his hands, honestly.
“It’s a player I really like, I know what he can give us and it’s completely down to him.
“The club made a huge investment in him and obviously people expect a lot from him because he has this quality. I said many times, with the strikers and attacking players it’s the most difficult thing to be consistent when you have to create, when you have to unlock the door and score goals and make assists.
“But this is why he is here, and he needs to embrace that challenge and go for it. We have to provide the best possible scenarios for him to be able to do that.”
The red card against Leeds could be a turning point in Pepe’s Arsenal career, and could help him turn the corner and find consistency. The positive remarks about the former Lille winger reaffirms the belief he has in his ability. His comments also send a message to the rest of his squad and lets them know they need to be on their game to help Pepe with his.
It’s great news for Arsenal fans that Pepe has reacted in such a positive way and it could well be the wake up call he needs. The price tag hangs heavily around the winger’s neck but, as we have seen with players like Virgil van Dijk, if you play well enough the fee becomes immaterial.