Mikel Arteta revealed that Nicolas Pepe approached him about his lack of playing time before their emphatic win over Sunderland as he expressed his frustration about being on the fringes of the Spaniard’s plans.
The Ivorian took advantage of his rare start against the Black Cats as he got on the scoresheet alongside Eddie Nketiah and Charlie Patino during the routine 5-1 victory as the Gunners set up a Carabao Cup semi-final.
He also registered two assists to give Arteta food for thought heading into 2022.
But Pepe has found playing time hard to come by in the Premier League as the likes of Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli continue to shine.
Since starting the 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace in October, Pepe has played just 13 Premier League minutes, and remained on the bench for Saturday’s 4-1 victory at Leeds.
Arteta revealed at full-time that he had spoken to Pepe prior to the game with the former Lille man upset about his minutes this season.
But the Arsenal boss sees that as a good thing.
He said: “A player that doesn’t play if he’s happy we have a big problem.
“Nico has not been happy and asking for more minutes. This is the attitude we want from our players.”
Pepe was an unused substitute in the 2-1 defeat against Everton a few weeks back as Nketiah was deployed off the bench instead of the Ivorian.
Asked why he opted for the Englishman over Pepe on that occasion, he said: “Because I decided to play Eddie today. He created three chances and hit the post once in 25 minutes I think.”
When pushed on the decision, Arteta claimed that it was his performance in training that merited his place in the squad ahead of other players – suggesting Pepe has not been showing enough in training to be picked.
He added: “He does every day in training what you see him do here. Every single day. That’s why I picked him.”
Nketiah was another player who staked a claim against Sunderland as he netted a hattrick for the Gunners.
But with his contract running out at the end of the season, he might not be an Arsenal player for much longer.
But Arteta insists they are doing everything they can behind the scenes to extend his stay,
“With the way he’s training and performing he deserves more minutes regardless of what happens with any other player,” the manager said, referring to the absence of former captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
“We are trying really hard [to keep him],” Arteta added,
“[His] contract has an expiry date and you can’t control that. His genuine intention is that he wants to play football and that’s what’s driving whatever decision he’s going to take.
“But he’s obviously a player we want to keep and we will continue to do our best to keep him.”