Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta admits that Nicolas Pepe is struggling with his price tag in the Premier League. The Ivory Coast international arrived from Lille for £72million in the summer but has managed just three Premier League goals in his 21 appearances for the Gunners so far.
He was the man former manager Unai Emery pinned his hopes on to turn Arsenal back into top four contenders – instead their tally of just six wins from 25 games is their worst return since 1913 when the club was still known as Woolwich Arsenal.
But it is the weight of expectation rather than the burden of history which Arteta feels is to blame for Pepe’s slow start.
“The price that we paid for him puts him in a difficult position straight away because he’s going to be compared to players of that calibre,” Arteta said.
“He was in France and was one of the biggest stars in the league. He had an incredible year.
“Now he comes here and a lot of people didn’t even know him and you paid that price tag.
“So for him to put his brain into this picture and solve all this is not easy. And he’s a really young player.”
Arteta still thinks, though, that the 24-year-old can show his worth.
“It’s not easy to adapt to this league but he’s putting in the effort and he’s willing to do it,” the Arsenal manager said. “And it will come out.
“First of all he needs the right structure behind him to be able to provide the moments of quality and winning games, whether it’s assists, goals, dribbles or whatever it is.
“Afterwards he needs to have a much clearer picture of the things that are happening on the pitch, why they are happening and how he can solve them.
“I think he’s in the process of doing that. I hope we can see it from now to the end of the season.”
Arteta was pleased with what he felt was a productive winter break but going into the game against Newcastle he admitted his players still have to overcome the mental hurdle almost of remembering how to win.
“I think winning takes you to winning the next game and the confidence related to that is huge,” he said.
“In football the mental aspect is more important than anything else so when you are doubting yourself and your ability to win games, obviously the confidence is affected.
“But that’s again part of something we need to go over and improve. The moment that comes I think it will generate naturally another dynamic.”
Arsenal return to action against Newcastle after a two-week winter break and Arteta said of the north Londoners’ warm-weather training camp: “It was like a mini pre-season for us in Dubai. We had time to work on a lot of our principles, how we want to set up against different formations, the relevant things we need to work on and off the ball.
“Apart from that it was great to be a little bit together, spend some time together, get to know each other, not just with the players but the staff and backroom staff. It was a very productive trip.
“I wanted to give them a few days rest because they had been through a lot of things in the last few months.
“After that we reflected on what we did together in the last five or six weeks since I joined, the things that we improved and they are very positive and we have to maintain them and the things we have to improve and develop.
“It worked really well. We agreed. We set some targets. We started to work on them. Hopefully we can see the outcome in the next few weeks.”
Probable Arsenal XI to face Newcastle: Leno; Bellerin, Mustafi, Luiz, Kolasinac; Torreira, Xhaka; Aubameyang, Ozil, Pepe; Lacazette.