Mikel Arteta has hailed the improvement Nicolas Pepe has demonstrated in recent weeks and has hinted the club’s record signing is on the verge of making a significant breakthrough. The Ivory Coast international has struggled to justify the £72million fee Arsenal paid to sign him from Lille in the summer of 2019 and struggled to win the faith of Unai Emery and his successor. Although he has made only limited contributions in the Premier League, Pepe has been arguably Arsenal’s most productive player during their Europa League campaign. The 25-year-old dragged his side back into their semi-final against Villarreal on Thursday, scoring from the spot to register the vital away goal which halved the deficit ahead of next week’s return leg. Pepe also played a decisive role in the quarter-final victory over Slavia Prague and Arteta put the winger’s recent improvement down to his ‘phenomenal’ work ethic.
He said: ‘I think he’s come a long way in the last few months. His work ethic has been phenomenal and he’s deciding many more games and doing what he can do in the final third in a much more consistent way. ‘So I’m really happy with his performances and now he needs to continue like this.
Confidence in every player is crucial and every time you step on that field, if they feel secure, if they feel protected, if they feel like they’re supported by their manager and their team-mates, it’s something that is crucial to be able to perform. ‘Then with the things that he could do better, he’s doing much better with as well. But it’s all a mix that is reflected in his performance.