Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has spoken highly of Nicolas Pepe amid criticism of the Gunners player, and hinted that he could start in the Europa League tonight.
The 25-year-old was handed a rare start by Arteta for Arsenal’s Premier League trip to Leeds at the weekend.
However, Pepe was sent off early in the second half after confronting Ezgjan Alioski and appearing to headbutt his opponent in an off-the-ball incident.
Referee Anthony Taylor blew his whistle to stop play after not seeing the incident live, but after a quick look at the VAR monitor, it was a straightforward decision to make.
The Gunners’ £72million record signing has since apologised to the club’s fans, his teammates and Arteta for his actions.
On Wednesday, when asked by Football London whether tonight’s game with Molde is the perfect time for Pepe to play, Arteta replied: “Yes, absolutely.
“He had a really good reaction, the way he apologised, the way he understood his responsibility and hopefully (tonight) we can see the player that we want to see.”
Arteta also rubbished suggestions that the incident could spell the end of his Arsenal career, saying: “No, it’s absolutely not.
“I cannot fault his effort at all. You see the way he strives for the team, the way he’s working, it’s been the best since he’s been at the club.”
It’s far too easy to point the finger at players for poor displays or poor decisions in games which result in negative consequences, but obviously it’s not like Pepe has turned into a bad player overnight – the talent is there.
It’s great to hear Arteta issue such a strong defence of his player, and hopefully the £140,000-a-week man deliver the perfect reaction, and shut his critics up, tonight and over the course of the season.