Arsenal: Mesut Ozil showing Nicolas Pepe how it’s done

Arsenal, Nicolas Pepe (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)
Arsenal, Nicolas Pepe (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images) /

Nicolas Pepe has not started either of Mikel Arteta’s first two games as Arsenal head coach. Meanwhile, the equally enigmatic and problematic Mesut Ozil is showing him how it’s done.

Mikel Arteta is a ruthless manager. He said so himself. When asked what he learned from his former boss, Pep Guardiola, more than any other tactical or technical element of being a manager, new Arsenal head coach Arteta said it was to be ‘ruthless’. It is a curious but telling choice.

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He has proven that in his actions already, most noticeably dropping £72 million club-record signing Nicolas Pepe for 20-year-old Reiss Nelson. Nelson struggled in his first start under Arteta against Bournemouth on Boxing Day, but was entrusted on the right-wing just three days later and impressed in the defeat to Chelsea, his confidence growing by the day. Meanwhile, Pepe played just four minutes.

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If Pepe wants to earn a place in the starting XI, it is quite clear what he must do. In fact, Arteta himself said as much after the Bournemouth match:

"“If he is willing to learn and willing to work hard I assure he has potential to be top absolutely top. Today (against Bournemouth) in two or three actions he has shown how good he can be but he has to be consistent. The problem is only confidence will only come when he plays but he has to train well enough to convince the manager I am confident enough to play him.”"

And if that is not enough for the Lille winger, he need only cast his gaze to the other enigmatic, vastly talented but hugely underwhelming star for motivation. While Pepe has sat on the bench for Arteta’s two matches in charge, Mesut Ozil has started and starred in both, impressing mightily with his skill and creativity on the ball as well as his surprising work-rate and industry, something that he is not exactly known for.

Arteta was keen to praise Ozil after the German’s performance against Bournemouth, a reminiscent display to what he produced on Sunday against Chelsea:

"“His attitude in training since the day I walked into the building has been incredible. I said I was going to give a clean slate to everybody and I want to give it to him.”"

To Ozil’s credit, he has adapted to the undeniable, near-obdurate style that Arteta is attempting to implement. The expectation might have been that he would slip into the shadows as he was asked to produce more effort in the defensive side of the game, but the opposite has happened: Ozil has applied himself excellently, and Arteta has rewarded him as a result.

Pepe, like Ozil, has all the talent in the world. Even in his limited outings so far this season, there have plenty of instances where his ability has undeniably surfaced. He is a brilliant talent, if not yet a brilliant player. Therefore, he only has himself to blame that he has not earned a starting role for himself.

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Arteta will not budge on his principles. It is up to Pepe to meet them, not for Arteta to bow to talent, just as Ozil has. And if Ozil can do it, so can Pepe.