Nicolas Pepe is not happy with his playing time at Arsenal, but his frustration is something manager Mikel Arteta is happy to see.
The winger started Tuesday’s 5-1 EFL Cup quarter-final win over Sunderland, scoring Arsenal’s second goal and setting up the final two for Eddie Nketiah and Charlie Patino.
That was only Pepe’s eighth start of the season in all competitions. In total, he has played 759 minutes in 2021-22, fewer than youngster Gabriel Martinelli and the apparently out-of-favour Alexandre Lacazette.
Arteta said Pepe is putting up a fight to earn more minutes for the Gunners, something he wants to see from all of his squad players.
“A player that doesn’t play, if he’s happy you have a big problem and Nico has not been happy,” he said of Arsenal’s record signing.
“He’s been trying to challenge us and asking us for more minutes because this is what he wants to do and rightly so and this is the attitude that we want from our players.”
Pepe could be in line to face Norwich City in the Premier League on Boxing Day as Arsenal prepare for a run of three league games in five days.
It is still unclear whether former club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will return, the Gabon striker having been left out since being stripped of the armband for ill discipline this month.
Arteta would not rule out the striker from being involved as he stressed it was not a matter of waiting for Aubameyang to apologise.
“What I said is that we make the squad the day before and today, as it’s still Wednesday, I haven’t done the squad,” he said.
“I think we have shown in this club that everybody can make mistakes or can have different ways of thinking or acting. I’m completely open to that, and it’s not about that.”
Monday marked two years since Arteta was appointed as Unai Emery’s replacement at Arsenal.
The former Manchester City assistant has enjoyed mixed fortunes, winning the FA Cup but failing to secure a Champions League return while conducting an overhaul of the squad.
Since Arteta’s appointment, Arsenal have won 37 of their 77 league games, gaining 127 points in total. Only Manchester United, Chelsea (both 142), Liverpool (160) and Man City (176) have taken more in that time.
Asked what he is most proud of during his time in charge, Arteta replied: “The atmosphere, the environment and the culture we have around the club and the sense of unity that we have from everybody who works at the club and the sense of unity that we have with our supporters that I think has come a long, long way.
“I think I have made a lot of mistakes for sure in this period, I would have time to reflect on that. I wish I had six trophies here next to me because that’s what this club deserves!
“There are still a lot of things we need to get much better at, to improve, but I think the team is going in the right direction. That is the feeling that I have.”
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