Pepe challenged to continue best Arsenal performances by Arteta

Nicolas Pepe is playing his best football since arriving at Arsenal for a club-record fee in 2019 and has been challenged to maintain his form by Mikel Arteta.

Ivory Coast international Pepe struggled to  a regular place in the starting line-up after returning from a three-match Premier League ban for headbutting Ezgjan Alioski in a 0-0 draw at Leeds United in November.

He was restored to the first XI for the FA Cup fourth-round meeting with Southampton after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was ruled out for personal reasons and has started delivering the sort of performances that were expected following his £72million arrival from Lille 18 months ago.

Although Arsenal were beaten 1-0 by Southampton, Pepe had five chances created – two more than the rest of his team-mates combined. It was the third time he has supplied that many key passes in a single game in all competitions this season, after producing eight against Rapid Vienna and Molde in the Europa League.

He then scored in a 3-1 win over the Saints in the Premier League, before creating three chances in a 0-0 draw against Manchester United. He also found the back of the net and produced one key pass in an hour on the pitch during the 2-1 loss to Wolves on Tuesday.

Prior to his recent run, Pepe had just two goals and two chances created across the entirety of the Premier League season.

With Aubameyang available again, Arteta urged the winger to keep producing high-quality displays on a consistent basis as Arsenal look to improve from 10th in the Premier League and bridge the nine-point gap to the top four.

“The performance that he puts overall in all the facets of the game, I think it’s the best he’s played, and his contribution to those aspects is the best he’s done,” said Arteta ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Aston Villa.

“He needs to sustain that. When you have moments in football, when you have to earn the right to play, you cannot lose it.

“In order to do that you have to do the basics right and keep doing what you’re doing. If you don’t then someone’s going to be knocking at your door.”

He added: “I don’t know how much he wants, but he needs guidance and he needs clarity in what he needs to do.

“Then he needs the discipline on the pitch to do what he needs to do and obviously he needs the freedom in certain moments to express himself as a player, and you cannot restrict that.”

Arteta was also encouraged by the performance of Thomas Partey against Wolves, though he would like to see the midfielder provide more of a threat going forward.

“Obviously that’s the reason we signed him, because we believed we needed a player like him, to impose himself in games and give us that dominance and that steel that he brings to the game,” said Arteta.

“We have to see more of him, more minutes and more games and slowly get partnerships and unity and chemistry around the team. He needs to be one of our leaders.

“He had a shot the other night when he should have passed the ball, so he needs to shoot when it’s the right moment to shoot, but he’s got that ability to get in the opponent’s box as well and run forwards with or without the ball and have that presence.

“At Atletico Madrid he scored a few goals really good goals and that’s something he needs to do more.”

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