How many times has this been said? Far too many for comfort. Arsenal, having thrown away a lead and then done likewise when bringing the game back to 2-2, had to make substitutions.
What did the bench say? In terms of options to bring on who could change the game in an attacking sense, there were Sambi Lokonga, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Eddie Nketiah, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe.
A case can be made for the two midfielders coming on to add greater ball progression centrally. Bukayo Saka was already on the pitch by this point but Arsenal needed more in attack, especially with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang not looking like he could score in a month of Sunday’s and Gabriel Martinelli desperate to move centrally.
Mikel Arteta brought on Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah.
Nicolas Pepe’s Arsenal career looks well and truly finished after Mikel Arteta snubs Ivorian again in 3-2 Premier League defeat to Manchester United
Putting to one side the fact that these two won’t be here beyond the season – one of them rejected a new contract 24 hours earlier – what do they seriously offer as goal threat?
Nketiah changed absolutely nothing. Replacing the captain and talisman, he tried to drop deep and link play to no effect. Arsenal were the same with him on the pitch as they were with Aubameyang, which says a lot.
Lacazette is not a goalscorer either. He has one all season in the league. Operating in a reserved No. 10 style role tells us all we need to know about his threat in front of goal.
No, as imperfect as he is, you’re going to call on Nicolas Pepe to change the game. You’d think so, at least, since he is one of a few players in this squad who can drop a 3/10 performance and still pop up with a goal or an assist. He has that knack about him where even on his worst days he can produce.
Instead he remained rooted to the bench for the fifth time in six Premier League matches. Accruing a grand total of five minutes across that spell, any lingering doubts over his long-term future at the club can be dispelled. The manager has clearly made up his mind.
Martinelli got the nod on the right side in Saka’s stead and his performance warrants him being third choice wide forward at the very least, with his inclusion against Everton the more likely change to the attacking positions.
Pepe will get his minutes, here or there. There could be a start against Sunderland in the Carabao Cup quarter-final, yet that too may be seen as too high profile for him in the manager’s eyes. There are two academy kids and another 20-year-old offering more than a player in his prime. The writing is on the wall.
While fans aren’t privy to what goes on at the training ground, they needn’t be. It’s painstakingly obvious that Pepe is showing nothing at London Colney to suggest he warrants any involvement, let alone ten minutes at the end of a match Arsenal are chasing for an equaliser in against a woefully frail defence.
“No [Pepe will not be leaving in January], and it is not the moment to talk about that either,” Arteta said recently. “We are interested in Nico performing at the level that he can do.”
How believable is that? Not very.
There is no conceivable way back for him, and with two years left on his deal in the summer the valuation Arsenal have on him will gradually decrease until any offer will suffice. It is also counterproductive though, as his value will only decrease with fewer minutes, but where he sits in Arteta’s estimations is so low that this might not even be crossing his mind.