Soccer

‘Pepe will come good’ – Arsenal’s record signing needs more time to adapt, says Ljungberg

The former Gunners star is confident that the Ivorian will fulfil his potential if he continues working hard on his game behind the scenes

Nicolas Pepe “will come good” at Arsenal, according to Freddie Ljungberg, who says the club’s record signing just needs more time to adapt.

Pepe became the most expensive signing in Arsenal’s history when he completed a £72 million ($96m) switch from Lille in August 2019.

The Ivory Coast international has since struggled to justify that hefty price tag, showing only glimpses of the mercurial talents that saw him emerge as one of the most exciting players in Ligue 1.

Pepe finished the 2019-20 campaign with only eight goals to his name from 42 appearances in all competitions, and his output has not improved at the start of the new season.

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A return of one goal in eight Premier League outings has done little to appease supporters demanding more cutting edge from the 25-year-old, whose stock plummeted to new lows after he was sent off for headbutting Ezgjan Alioski in a 0-0 draw at Leeds United last weekend.

The former Lille star did, however, respond to that setback by producing a superb display against Molde in the Europa League on Thursday, with his 50th-minute strike setting Arsenal on their way to a comfortable 3-0 victory.

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Ljungberg, who served as both the Gunners’ interim manager and assistant coach last season, is confident that Pepe will live up to his potential eventually, and doesn’t believe he deserves the amount of negative attention he’s had during the first year of his career at Emirates Stadium.

“I think Nico will come good,” The Arsenal legend told The Athletic. “Nico wants to work. Every player makes mistakes. I got sent off at Spurs!

“Don’t slaughter them too much because it happens to all of us.

“The important thing is how they react afterwards and if he knuckles down, works even harder and still tries to prove himself. He’s not had the easiest time, there’s a lot of focus on him.

“I could say easy things like, ‘Yeah, he needs game time’. OK, but you have a lot of other players as well who need game time. That’s what is difficult.

“When you come from the French league to the Premier League, you need a bit of adaptation.

“It’s totally different football and everything around football. So you need game time but you need results at the same time. It’s not an easy balance.”

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