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Arsenal boss defends under-fire €81 million star

Unai Emery insists the club’s record signing, Nicolas Pepe, will come good.

Unai Emery has backed Nicolas Pepe to come good at Arsenal.
Unai Emery has backed Nicolas Pepe to come good at Arsenal.

UNAI EMERY HAS urged Nicolas Pepe to relish the pressure that comes with being Arsenal’s club-record signing.

The Gunners splashed out £72 million (€81m) to bring in the Ivory Coast international from Lille in the summer, but so far he has struggled to make much of an impact in north London.

His only goal this season has come from the penalty spot against Aston Villa and on Monday he was replaced after 70 minutes against Manchester United following a disappointing display at Old Trafford.

It was a performance that saw Pepe heavily criticised, with the 24-year-old admitting after the game that he was suffering from a lack of confidence.

Emery has backed his summer signing, however, and is considering starting him against Standard Liege in the Europa League on Thursday in a bid to give him some extra game time, though he does not believe Pepe should worry about trying to justify his lofty price tag.

“When they are here working and playing, it’s not relevant to speak about the money,” said Arsenal’s head coach.

“Not for him, not for young players or experienced players. They are players, they are human, they play and are not thinking about that. I am not thinking about my salary when I am the coach.

“The players are not thinking about salary or what one club paid to use him.”

Emery added: “We are playing every time, as a coach or a player, under pressure. 

“[Being] under pressure is a positive. We are at a big club with a very demanding objective.

Every player is in the selection to be here and it’s a privilege to be here. That privilege brings pressure, of course. But it’s positive.

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“Not for the salary, not for how much the club paid for him. No, no, no. It’s because we need to achieve a good performance, individually and collectively. We need to be very demanding of ourselves.”

Pepe’s underwhelming performance during Monday’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United saw him singled out for criticism, with Roy Keane saying the winger didn’t appear to be “up for the fight”.

Arsenal legend Ian Wright also said Arsenal need to start seeing far more from their record signing, who was overshadowed by 18-year-old Bukayo Saka on the opposite flank at Old Trafford.

Emery, however, says Pepe’s progress is where he expected to be following his move from France in the summer and was keen to point out that players moving from abroad always need time to adapt.

He needs to play, get confidence, know progressively better the other players,” said Emery. “Every player needs time when they arrive here. Young players or players as important as Pepe.

“I was speaking with him and [Dani] Ceballos. The Premier League is a very strong competition. It is the best competition and the strongest competition in the world. Liverpool with Man City are the two best teams of the moment, they are very physical. 

“We need quality and the adaptation to play at that intensity. Because you need to think quickly, to move the ball quickly or keep the ball with strong intensity around you. We are in that process and Pepe, is the same.”

Emery added: “A lot of players when they came here, the first month, the first year it was not easy for them. But I am going to work with him.

“Pepe is an amazing player, I am sure he is going to be here a big career.”

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