With Arsenal in need of a goal during the second half of yesterday’s 2-2 draw with Norwich, it was somewhat surprising that Freddie Ljungberg didn’t turn to Nicolas Pepe.
The interim head coach did introduce Bukayo Saka in the 78th minute, and Gabriel Martinelli very late on, but the £72m summer arrival from Lille remained unused by the end.
It led to a question after the game as to why the record signing had not played any part, to which Ljungberg replied, “Pepe is a very good player. Like I said, I try to look at what players have done in training and that’s how I judge them.”
It’s an interesting answer, and one that will surely raise further questions about the Ivorian’s slow start to life in North London.
Perhaps the frustration felt with Unai Emery meant it was easy to point the finger at him for not using the winger, but if Freddie is also raising some doubts, perhaps there are issues behind the scenes we’re not aware of.
Pepe has played 785 of a potential 1260 Premier League minutes so far this season, some of which can be put down to his late arrival, and a summer in which he didn’t have a proper pre-season.
But it’s December now, so fitness issues should be a consideration, and he’s played just 58 minutes in total of our last four league games. He was also left on the bench for the duration of our 2-1 Europa League defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt last week.
It does suggest there’s work to do, both on the player’s side and the club in order to figure out how to get the best out a player that cost so much money, but for now it remains an unhappy time all concerned.