Nicolas Pepe’s red card was the main talking point from Arsenal’s draw.
It did not mask over another disappointing display for Mikel Arteta‘s side, who struggled for fluency, creativity and even excitement. A barrage of Leeds chances failed to find the back of the net and Arsenal scraped a draw.
Despite that, it was Nicolas Pepe‘s foolish headbutt that grabbed the headlines, as he let emotions get the better of him when he forced his forehead into Ezgjan Alioski. The Macedonian went down in theatrical style, but the intent was there and Arsenal were forced to play the remaining 40 minutes with ten men.
Earning just his second Premier League start of the season, the actions of the Ivorian naturally incensed his manager, who made no bones about his opinion on the matter.
Banned for the next three matches, including the North London Derby against Tottenham, Pepe’s efforts to force his way into the starting lineup for top-flight matches suffered a considerable blow. His actions are inexcusable, although it’s how he responds that will be most telling.
Penning a message on his official Instagram page, he apologised for his actions.
"“I let my team down at a crucial time of the game and there are no excuses for my behaviour.“I am deeply sorry and would like to apologise to the fans, my teammates, my coach and everyone else at the club.”"
At a point where the squad is riddled with injuries and absent players, coupled with the struggles on the pitch, unity within the group is essential to restoring a degree of balance. Arsenal, and Arteta, have serious work to do, none of which will be made easier without support within the ranks.
Granit Xhaka has offered his public backing to Pepe, commenting on the same post with the short message:
"“Keep going brother. You come back stronger. WE ARE WITH YOU.”"
While internally all of this will have been discussed, Xhaka’s decision to go public will be issued with the intention of reassuring supporters that the team is exactly that: a team.
Pepe’s ban doesn’t carry over into European fixtures, so he’s available to play against Molde on Thursday with Arsenal seeking to secure qualification to the knockout stages. He could also play the following week when Rapid Vienna come to the Emirates Stadium, and travel to face Dundalk before his ban is completed.