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Arteta backs ‘different’ Arsenal star to make key impact

Nicolas Pepe, Arsenal
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The Gunners are embroiled in a tight battle for a top-four spot in the Premier League, and Nicolas Pepe could have a say in it.

Arsenal winger Nicolas Pepe is a changed man after returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, according to manager Mikel Arteta.

Despite flashes of promise, Pepe has largely struggled to live up to his club-record €80 million fee. The Ivorian has been in and out of Arteta’s squad all season so far. In fact, he has only made five starts in the Premier League – as Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka, and Emile Smith Rowe pip him in the pecking order.

But Pepe impressed at AFCON, supplying two goals and an assist in four matches for Ivory Coast, and the experience appears to have boosted his confidence.

‘I think I have seen a different Nico’

Now Arteta is hopeful the 26-year-old will bring his A-game for the final part of this season – as he did last term – to help Arsenal seal a top-four finish in the Premier League.

“Since he has come back from AFCON, I think I have seen a different Nico as well,” said the Gunners boss as per the Standard.

“I don’t know what it is, probably he has realized the importance of the end of the season for him.

“He had a brilliant end of the season last year. He can replicate that. We need him at his best because everybody is going to contribute. We are a really short squad at the moment and we need it. Hopefully, he has understood that we want to play him.

“The way he has trained. His efficiency in training, his application. His energy has changed. I don’t know what it is. I think he felt important again.

“I don’t want to have a player like him sitting on the bench and not using him and the moment I have chances, I want to give him a chance.”

Pepe will hope to get a chance for more game time in Arsenal’s match against Brentford on Saturday afternoon.