Mikel Arteta says something has clicked inside of Nicolas Pepe after Arsenal’s club record signing starred in their 2-1 win at Sheffield United.
The £72 million ($90m) winger scored from the spot at Bramall Lane as the Gunners booked their spot in the FA Cup semi-finals thanks to an injury time winner from Dani Ceballos.
It was Pepe’s eighth goal of the season and his second since the restart and Arteta believes the Ivory Coast international is now showing why Arsenal invested is heavily in him last season.
“I’m very excited about what he’s bringing to the team,” said the Spaniard. “I think he has made a click, I think he realises what he needs to do for the team as well when we don’t have the ball.
“I’m so pleased today, if you see his defensive action it’s incredible what he was doing, and then with the ball he gives us the creativity, the flair that big teams need. He’s always unpredictable when he has the ball. He is going in the right direction.”
Arteta added: “I really like him. From the past, I didn’t know him personally but I think he is a player with incredible potential, but he needs to be decisive in every game.
“He needs to take care of moments in the game when he disconnects himself a little bit and he can’t do that. I will be very persistent with him to try and change that because if he is at his best he is a player who can make the difference for the team.”
Pepe opened the scoring for Arsenal at Bramall Lane when he slotted home from the penalty spot midway through the first half after Alexandre Lacazette had been tripped in the box.
That was his 16th direct goal involvement of the season - only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with 21, has more for Arsenal since the start of the campaign.
Since the turn of the year, the winger has scored four times and set up another three and Arteta believes his form is a sign that he is now beginning to settle in England.
Arsenal’s head coach said: “It’s very important to try to understand the player, his feelings, how hard it has been for him to adapt to a new country and a language that he doesn’t understand and he cannot speak to his team-mates.
“But he is very willing, he’s such nice boy, he’s always smiling, he’s always positive around everybody. He’s a bit of a free spirit, but that’s good because you need those kind of characters in your team and now he’s showing his commitment to us.
“I don’t know how he was feeling before, we just try to produce the right environment for players and treat them a little bit individually for their needs.
“Hopefully we are in the right direction with Nico and he can feel he has our total support and the only aim for us to to try and improve him and make him decisive for the team.”