Martin Keown has expressed sympathy for Nicolas Pepe after Arsenal’s £72 million record signing was omitted from yet another first XI last night, speaking on BT Sport.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta left the Ivory Coast international on the bench for their Europa League clash with Benfica, despite Pepe starting every game in the competition so far.

The Gunners drew the tie 1-1 thanks to a Bukayo Saka second-half strike.

Arteta deployed Emile Smith Rowe on the left of a three behind Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang.

That’s the position Pepe has been gaining a lot of joy from recently but Arteta clearly preferred his younger teammate in the role.

Pepe did make it on to the field – but only for the last 13 minutes.

Keown: Pepe lacks ‘defensive compass’

Speaking after the match, Keown sympathised with Pepe but hinted Arteta’s decision may be down to the 25-year-old’s work rate compared with Smith Rowe.

 

The former Arsenal defender said: “I feel sorry for (Pepe) because he did really well for a couple of games – but they lost those games.

“They lost to Wolves, they lost to Villa. (Arteta) is searching for the right balance with the ball and without the ball.

“Smith Rowe’s defensive compass is better than Pepe’s. He really works hard for the team defensively, as does Saka.”

Nice work Nicolas

Ironically for Pepe, who joined Arsenal from Lille in August 2019 (BBC Sport), he has been playing some of his best football recently.

He had started four consecutive Premier League games for the first time this season until Arteta dropped him for the win against Leeds United.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Arsenal - Premier League
(Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

In that period, Pepe scored twice to make it seven for the season and generally played with a confidence that had been missing for a while.

Arsenal have also regained some swagger, driven by the introduction of Smith Rowe in midfield and Saka’s growing influence.

And with Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard starting to settle into the Arsenal midfield, chances may become even more limited for the £72 million misfit.

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