Nicolas Pépé’s Arsenal future is “in his hands”, according to Mikel Arteta, who rejected any suggestion the forward’s days at the club might be numbered after his red card at Leeds on Sunday.
Pépé has largely frustrated since a club-record £72m move from Lille in August 2019 and he exasperated his manager when he was dismissed for a headbutt on Ezgjan Alioski on his recall to the starting XI at Elland Road. He has apologised and Arteta scotched the notion the player’s Arsenal career is on the line.
“Absolutely not, it’s not about that and I don’t like that type of statement,” the manager said. “I will give Nico my full support all the time. He knows the things he has to improve but again we all know his qualities.
“He has some responsibility, and I have a lot of responsibility, to get the best out of him. I cannot fault his effort at all. There are certain aspects he can do better because he has the ability … but to say there is a threat to finish his career here, it’s not at all like that.”
Nonetheless, the fact it was only Pépé’s second top-flight start of the season spoke volumes about his lack of consistency. Arteta suggested Pépé would be given the chance to gather new momentum when Arsenal face Molde in Norway on Thursday, a match that could see them confirm their place in the Europa League knockout stage with a win.
“With his ability I am going to be very demanding because I know what he can do and he needs to deal with that,” Arteta said. “It’s in his hands, honestly. I know what he can give us and it’s completely down to him.”
The youngsters Ben Cottrell, Miguel Azeez and Folarin Balogun have made the journey to Molde, and Emile Smith-Rowe may make his first appearance of the season after a shoulder injury. The 19-year-old forward Balogun, who made his debut against Dundalk last month, had been linked with a move during the summer but Arteta confirmed discussions were underway about a new contract.
“He is a player that I want, a player I want to stay at the club,” Arteta said. “Myself and the club are working to extend his contract, to try to convince him this is the right place.”
Bukayo Saka has stayed in London after sustaining a leg injury late in the Leeds game and Arteta said it was “very doubtful” he would be fit to face Wolves on Sunday. Willian also misses out after sustaining a knock and being substituted at half-time.