Nicolas Pepe deserves to start for Arsenal against Manchester United

It's probably fair to say that, to date, Nicolas Pepe has failed to live up to the £72m fee Arsenal agreed to pay Lille for his services back in the summer of 2019.

Unai Emery was the boss when the Ivorian was signed and much has been made of the fact that the Spaniard would have preferred to see international teammate Wilfried Zaha arrive at the Emirates instead, only to be overruled by the Arsenal hierarchy.

25-year-old Pepe has since made 66 appearances for the north Londoners, scoring 14 times and providing 13 assists - that's 27 direct goal contributions which is certainly respectable.

With the club's record transfer fee hanging over his head, there was always going to be pressure on Pepe to deliver on a consistent basis. But given he has only started in 25% of the club's top flight fixtures this season, you can perhaps understand why he's found it difficult to find any sort of rhythm.

Add to that, when he has been given opportunities to start in some of the cup competitions, he has more often than not played alongside what you would now regard as Mikel Arteta's second string side. Because of that, not all of the criticism he has received of late has necessarily been fair.

Following an impressive display against Southampton on Tuesday, however, you can certainly argue that Pepe deserves to hold onto his place in the starting XI for the visit of Manchester United on Saturday - particularly if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is still unavailable.

The Arsenal captain revealed that his recent absence was due to the ill health of his mother and speaking on Thursday, Mikel Arteta refused to put a date on his return to the side.

During Arsenal's win at St. Mary's, Pepe scored the equalising goal at a crucial time, shortly after Stuart Armstrong put the hosts in front and went on to deliver one of his most impressive performances in the club's colours to date.

Historically, the former Lille man has played on the right-wing for Mikel Arteta's side but given Bukayo Saka has made that position his own of late - scoring four goals and providing two assists in his last six Premier League appearances, Pepe was asked to start from the left-hand side.

Why was Nicolas Pepe more effective from the left-wing?

Nicolas Pepe proved to Mikel Arteta he has something to offer the Gunners in attack | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Against Southampton, the forward had 58 touches, only Cedric (81) had more - highlighting that from the left, he was able to get far more heavily involved in Arsenal's attack. Throughout his career, he has been a player that enjoys receiving the ball wide and driving in field towards the penalty are,a but playing on the left seems to give him the confidence to go on the outside, using his pace to beat people as an alternative - making him far less predictable.

Having scored his goal midweek inside eight minutes, Pepe's confidence, which appears to have eluded him in recent months was visibly flowing through his body. He had the kind of swagger and belief in his game that Arsenal fans had yet to previously see.

Clearly a confidence player who has struggled with the lack of starting opportunities afforded to him in recent months, dropping him, especially if Aubameyang remains unavailable, could be counter-productive. Questions have been asked in the past of his willingness to help out defensively but aside from being caught on his heels in the lead up to Southampton's opener, he delivered an almost perfect display.

Arsenal take on Manchester United at the weekend at the Emirates Stadium - The Gunners won at Old Trafford earlier on this season | Visionhaus/Getty Images

Time and time again, the Arsenal boss has spoken about the need to develop a winning culture at the Emirates Stadium and having played so well, if Pepe were to be dropped would he be sending the right message to the rest of his players striving to nail down a regular place?

For the aforementioned reasons, he warrants a starting place in this Saturday's big Premier League clash with the old enemy, Manchester United.

Source : 90min