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Nicolas Pepe has seen his attitude at Arsenal questioned by Alan Smith, with the Ivorian winger accused of looking “disinterested” after costing the Gunners a “ridiculous” £72 million ($98m) fee.
Having seen Pepe star at Lille, an ambitious Premier League outfit believed they were acquiring a potential superstar when bringing a talented 25-year-old onto their books.
Little value has been found in that deal, though, with a big-money addition failing to live up to expectations.
Pepe is far from the being the only player in north London to have struggled for form, with experienced Brazilian Willian also falling into that category following his arrival in 2020, and Smith admits collective standards need to improve under Mikel Arteta.
The former Gunners striker told the Evening Standard: “We don’t actually know how good Pepe can become.
“Bought for a ridiculous sum (well done, Raul Sanllehi, Arsenal’s former head of football), the winger has yet to prove he can replicate his Lille form in red and white. Going further, you do have to wonder, looking at body language, how badly the lad wants to succeed.
“Willian is different. With an excellent track record at Chelsea, we know he has the ability to influence games.
“Arsenal’s coaching staff, in turn, were expecting him to elevate the side, turn it back into a top-four outfit. So far, it has been the opposite. But that doesn’t mean the Brazilian can’t come again in a side energised by youth and better results.
“That can easily happen. Just as talent can inspire, hard work and enthusiasm often prove infectious. If your team-mate alongside is busting a gut, you tend to follow suit out of support.”
Arsenal have been showing faith in youth of late, with Emile Smith Rowe slotting in alongside the likes of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli to get the Gunners firing again.
Smith sees a 20-year-old playmaker becoming a key man for Arteta, with there comparisons to be drawn between a star of the present and academy graduates of the past.
He added: “The qualities of Emile Smith Rowe were less well known.
“Europa League football is one thing, but holding your own against Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante is quite another. Following on, his creativity and touch at West Brom brought back memories of Jack Wilshere bossing the play.
“As so often happens in these situations, Smith Rowe’s chance came about through desperation.Mikel Artetadidn’t seem all that keen to promote the playmaker, hoping instead that his senior stars would perk up. When they didn’t, there was no other choice.
“With Arteta’s credentials and decision-making getting widely questioned, the Spaniard turned to a player of unknown pedigree.