After winning the FA Cup in his first season in charge of Arsenal, Mikel Arteta would no doubt have been intent on trying to retain the trophy this year.
The Gunners had to grind out a victory over Newcastle in the FA Cup third round, and were rewarded with a hugely tricky away tie against Southampton.
And in keeping with how this season has gone for the Premier League giants, the north Londoners looked completely toothless, as they were knocked out of the FA Cup with a 2-0 defeat to the Saints.
Nicolas Pepe was given the chance to impress by Arteta at St Mary’s, and whilst the Ivory Coast international showed touches of briliance – not least his cute through for Eddie Nketiah – he was once again largely disappointing.
None of his two attempts on goal found the target, including particularly awful strike from a free-kick late on in the game. He also failed to provide a single accurate cross despite getting in promising positions, and that left the likes of Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli to feed off scraps.
Countless times Pepe had the chance to run at Southampton left-back Ryan Bertrand, but instead either let a loose first touch get away from him, or didn’t have the convince to really take him on one-on-one.
One moment in the second-half saw Hector Bellerin play a line pass in behind the Saints defence, only for Pepe to get his feet tangled up and see Ibrahima Diallo recover and nick it back off him. In total, he lost possession 16 times, with only two Arsenal players losing it more, and Football.London simply said that he “fell over a lot” in their post-match ratings.
It led to The Telegraph journalist Sam Dean to describe both him and summer signing Willian as an “increasingly pressing problem”. Given how Bukayo Saka has played for the Gunners out on the right-hand side, Pepe’s chances of first-team starts look set to be thin on the ground.
Relatively even game, I thought, but it showed just how important Saka, Smith Rowe and Tierney have become to #AFC. Much less drive, spark and invention without them (and Aubameyang). Willian and Pepe becoming an increasingly pressing problem…
— Sam Dean (@SamJDean) January 23, 2021
Dean’s assessment was followed up by a number of Arsenal fans on Twitter calling on the £100k-a-week earning Pepe to just be sold by the Gunners.
Sell Willian, sell Pepe, give balogun more first team football, and please complete the odegaard deal. @Arsenal
— AFCRambo (@AFCRambo1) January 23, 2021
i hope arsenal sell willian and pepe this summer
— a (@careeefree) January 23, 2021
sell willock nketiah pepe willian man
— ‘ (@AIex18i) January 23, 2021
Mikel I trust the process but please don't start pepe on willian together again ….infact sell them ASAP
— peter oneill (@petee1977) January 23, 2021
Terminate Willian contract and sell Pepe asap. I don’t want to see nketiah on arsenal shirt again!
— S̸n̸o̸w̸⚔️ (@MatthewConsider) January 23, 2021
Sell pepe. Sign grealish
— Charlie (@EIEtheherd49) January 23, 2021
Arsenal sell Willian sell Pepe sell Eddie right now @Arsenal
— Shyheim (@LaShyheim) January 23, 2021
And Saturday afternoon’s display against Southampton would have just confirmed to Arteta that trusting in his youth is the best way to go forward. The Arsenal boss must make the ruthless decision and axe Pepe from his starting line-up for the return clash against Southampton in the Premier League in mid-week.