Michel Arteta called on winger Nicolas Pepe to do his part for Arsenal’s season and show he still has a future at the Emirates.
The club’s record £72 million contract did not start Premier League play for four months after failing to oust Bukayo Saku from the squad.
And he will likely be back on the bench for tonight’s home game against Brentford despite Gabriel Martinelli suspended.
But Arteta refuses to write off the 26-year-old Ivorian and believes the player’s attitude has improved since his return from the recent Africa Cup of Nations.
Gunners boss Arteta said: “We have a very small squad and we need Niko to be in top shape because I hope he understands that I want to play with him.
“I don’t want a player like him to sit on the bench and not use him because this is the moment when I can give him a chance.
“But since he returned from Afkon, I have seen a different Niko in his attitude, his smile, his energy and manner of communication.
“I think he felt important again, like a real footballer who can win tournaments, and I’m very happy because he needed it.
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“Now he realized the importance of the end of the season for him. He finished last season brilliantly and we want him to do it again.”
Pepe, who was signed by former manager Unai Emery from Lille in 2019, was Arsenal’s second top scorer last season with 16 goals.
But he has managed just a couple of League Cup goals against West Brom and Sunderland this season and is in danger of going astray despite having over two years left on his £140,000-a-week deal. .
Arteta admitted: “I hope he still sees his long-term future with us, but when a player doesn’t play he gets frustrated.
“Niko wants to have many more minutes and hopefully he can do it and contribute to the team because he has the opportunity to do so.”
Tonight’s game will be Arsenal’s first meeting with Brentford since their humiliating 2-0 defeat to Thomas Franck’s team in the opener of the season.
No one suffered more that night than Ben White, who was given a torrid time by Ivan Toni on his Arsenal debut following a £50m summer move from Brighton.
But the 24-year-old central midfielder hasn’t made a mistake since then, and Arteta said: “The way Ben reacted showed he had a lot of character and courage to take a step forward.
“The way he is perceived is very important to Ben. He knows what people think of him and he broadcasts what he wants to be.
“That’s what we want from all of our players because then they’ll be ready to compete.”
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