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Nicolas Pepe needs a chance

Nicolas Pepe did not see the pitch against Manchester City. Arsenal’s record signing needs a chance against Brighton on Saturday. And if he gets one, he cannot afford to squander it.

It has not been the restart to the Premier League season that Nicolas Pepe would have been hoping for. After providing one goal and three assists in the three league appearances prior to the current lockdown, Pepe immediately slipped to the bench against Manchester City and was never brought off it, Mikel Arteta turning to Reiss Nelson ahead of Arsenal’s £72 million record signing.

It was hoped that Pepe might finally begin to deliver on his enormous potential. Arteta has been heralded for his work with Manchester City’s wide players, especially Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane, and there were plenty of suggestions that he could conjure the same magic with a player as talented as Pepe.

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Prior to lockdown, the signs were promising. Pepe was not singlehandedly winning matches yet and there were plenty of curious and concerning moments, but it is not a coincidence that he has matched his goals and assists tallies before Arteta arrived in six fewer matches under the Spaniard’s supervision. Nevertheless, there was now a tentative hope that he would kick on and develop into the player Arsenal signed him to be during the remaining weeks of the season.

To see him sitting on the bench against City, then, was a little concerning. To then see Nelson come on ahead of him was even more telling, although this could well be due to Arteta recognising that the game was lost at that stage and he wanted to give Nelson some first-team minutes. Nevertheless, Pepe’s non-inclusion raises questions about his future and his role under Arteta.

When Arsenal travel to Brighton on Saturday afternoon, Pepe will be itching for a start. It is a match in which the Gunners should have more offensive freedom to push forward and control play. Arteta may field a more offensive line-up and will be looking for creativity and threat in the final third rather than the more workmanlike XI he used against City.

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With that in mind, this could be Pepe’s chance to truly dominate a match and establish himself as a key starter. That is, after all, what Arsenal signed him to be. Last season, they struggled to find match-winning play from out wide. They lacked a dribbler, someone who could beat defenders and cause problems in the final third. They needed to find goals from wide areas, too. Pepe, it was believed, could solve these issues.

He has proven, at times, that he is capable of fulfilling this role. In odd matches and moments, he has performed at the level that is expected of him. And he is hugely gifted, possessing a skill set that suggests he can yet develop into an elite wide attacker.

Next: Arsenal Vs Brighton: 5 key players to watch

Thus far, however, Pepe is yet to consistently deliver. And Arteta may be getting tired of waiting. Now he needs a chance to right his recent wrongs. Will he get it against Brighton on Saturday?

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