Nicolas Pepe let more than just Arsenal down at Elland Road.
A battling team display in which the players fought and suffered for the benefit of the collective, the actions of one man sliced a hole through the very heart of a manager who resisted his own instincts. Arteta, to this point unwilling to unleash the Ivorian from the off in the Premier League, will sit solemnly in hindsight wishing he’d never heeded those calls.
Actions, they speak louder than words.
Consistency has been the buzz word with Pepe. Someone capable of the spectacular but only able to produce so amid a sea of otherwise underwhelming application.
With the team sheet out and the majority of the fanbase content, we’d hoped to see a shift from that narrative. Pepe, for just the second time this season, was granted his chance in the Premier League. He was doing well.
His touches were more precise when the ball found its way to his feet, whether they were flicks to evade his marker or control in tight spaces. Pepe appeared the more likely locksmith going forward at a time where Arsenal posed little in the way of threat. If there was going to be a goal it was Pepe who would have a deciding say.
The 4-2-3-1 system suited him better, in areas where he wasn’t consigned to hugging the touchline on the edges of the opposition box. There was not enough covering for Hector Bellerin on the right flank, although how much of this was Pepe’s doing or the demands of the manager will remain an internal, unanswered question. Not great, but an improvement.
He threw it all away.
Ezgjan Alioski is no admirable figure. A player you love to have on your team but loathe otherwise. To his credit, he got under Pepe’s skin, but what followed was an inexcusable act of stupidity.
This wasn’t a case of the forward blowing his chance – you aren’t still having ‘chances’ 15 months and 55 matches into a club career. Pepe has, unequivocally, failed. Failed his teammates. Failed his manager. Failed his supporters.
Ultimately, failed himself.
Where he goes from here is back home, hopefully reeling. If he is to salvage his Arsenal career, then one can hope he doesn’t get a wink of sleep tonight. He needs to feel as disappointed as all those of an Arsenal persuasion. If he isn’t embarrassed of himself and the self-portrait he’s painted, then there is no meaningful return in sight.
Even still, the road back is perilous. A seething Arteta looks set to banish him from this team for longer than the three matches he’ll receive. You can’t blame him.
Yearning, praying, for the moment of enlightenment where Pepe assumed the mould he conveyed at Lille, unless he sees this as the watershed moment for reconciliation, we might as well turn the page.