Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta shocked many people when he dropped Nicolas Pepe last weekend against Leeds United.
The Ivorian was in his best form in an Arsenal shirt and many people viewed him as certain starter for that game. However, the Arsenal boss brought Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang back in, and the Gabon star repaid the faith with a brilliant hat-trick.
Many of us expected Pepe to come back in against Benfica in the Europa League but Arteta decided against it. Auba was given the start again and sadly, he was nowhere near his best last night.
Arsenal fans have been wondering why Pepe has been pushed out of the side twice in the same week despite playing very well. Arsenal legend Martin Keown thinks he knows the answer.
He said on BT Sport during their coverage of the game last night: “I feel sorry for him (Pepe) because he did really well for a couple of games. But they lost those games. And he’s searching for the right balance with the ball and without the ball.
“With Smith Rowe I think his defensive compass is better than Pepe’s. He really works hard. As does Saka. That press has been better. Now, perhaps he didn’t feel he was getting enough from Pepe defensively so Smith Rowe’s gone into that position.
“Now you’ve got Saka and Smith Rowe in wide positions. They have really good movement, tuck inside nicely, they give that space for the full-backs to get wide and they know when to press.”
Arsenal Insider’s view
You’ve got to feel sorry for Pepe. The former Lille man played really well against Southampton, Manchester United, Wolves and Aston Villa. He was a constant threat in all of those games, and helped out defensively as well.
However, Smith Rowe’s form means that he is undroppable and the Leeds United game was perfect for someone like Odegaard. Arteta chose that option and it worked brilliantly last Sunday.
The same didn’t quite happen last night but we still managed to dominate the game. Arteta is likely to stick to this attack going forward, and that really is a shame as we all know how good Pepe can be when his confidence is high.