We all know his level – Pepe response delights Arteta

By Patric Ridge 27 November 2020 18
We all know his level – Pepe response delights Arteta

Mikel Arteta was thrilled with Nicolas Pepe's performance as Arsenal cruised to a 3-0 victory over Molde in the Europa League.

Arteta was left furious with Pepe when Arsenal's record signing saw red for a headbutt on Ezgjan Alioski during the 0-0 Premier League draw with Leeds United last Sunday.

The Ivory Coast forward was handed a chance to redeem himself on Thursday and it was one he took, scoring the opening goal to cap an impressive display in Norway, as the Gunners booked their place in the round of 32.

Reiss Nelson doubled the lead and Folarin Balogun scored his first Arsenal goal to complete a routine win.

"I am really pleased," Arteta said of Pepe. "Obviously after the disappointment, something negative, you want to see a reaction and to stand out really quickly.

"I could see from the first minute, from his body language, that he was ready to act. I think he had a great performance.

"He scored a goal, he could have scored another one or two. He created some great moments in the game and worked really hard for the team. I really liked it. I am really pleased with that.

"We all know where his level is and all the time the question is how often he can get to that level – and how he contributes to other aspects of the game.

"That should be the level that he needs to hit and from there he needs to keep improving, because he is capable of doing it and you can see that every time he gets in those positions, in the final third, he is a real threat and a really difficult player to control.

"He can come with his feet, he can go inside, outside, he can shoot and create crosses. He can go in behind you as well. That's what we expect from him."

Pepe, who also hit the crossbar, attempted six shots and crafted a game-high four chances, while there were also promising signs from Arsenal youngster Balogun, who struck his maiden goal with his first ever attempt for the senior team just 37 seconds after replacing Eddie Nketiah late on.

It appeared likely Balogun – whose contract is up in 2021 – would leave Arsenal in the last transfer window, but talks are underway over a new deal and Arteta has claimed the 19-year-old wants to stay with the Gunners.

"He wants to stay, we want him to stay," Arteta added. "We gave him the opportunity and he took it straight away.

"It's well deserved for the boy. He's working really hard. He had some difficult months with all the speculation around him; he's handled the situation in a really mature way."

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Patric Ridge