Marking the start of a new era at Arsenal, Mikel Arteta’s first official starting XI as Gunners boss was always going to lead to some major talking points – especially considering very few players, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bernd Leno being the only exceptions, have proved this season that they clearly deserve to be on the team-sheet.
But perhaps the key takeaway from Arteta’s first ever Arsenal XI was his decision to leave out club-record signing Nicolas Pepe, a £72m talent who has endured a tricky start to life in the Premier League with just two goals to his name so far.
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That being said, Pepe has averaged 2 shots, 1.2 key passes and 3.1 dribbles per match in the top flight, so perhaps a run of improved output is just around the corner. Some Arsenal fans seem to think so, as they fumed at Arteta’s call to bench him against Bournemouth…
No pepe pic.twitter.com/KOehGmiHkQ
— out of context troopz (@outofcontextygm) December 26, 2019
— َ (@BasedVero) December 26, 2019
What has Pepe done to deserve that
— kt 🚬 (@afc_kt) December 26, 2019
Why did we sign pepe sick of seeing him dropped now joke
— Owen Woodward (@OwenWoo29214168) December 26, 2019
No Pepé? pic.twitter.com/CLkygMQbON
— Örïšśśś (@Orume1231) December 26, 2019
That’s a good team. Pepe is the only exclusion that makes me cry.
— AccurateThinker (@AccurateFooty) December 26, 2019
WHY THE HELL IS PEPE ON THE BENCH
— Nazzy💧🇩🇿 (@NazzyB9) December 26, 2019
we need pepe to start
we spent £72m to put him on the bench ?
— samrina💚💛❤️🇪🇹 (@samrawithabte4) December 26, 2019
Other supporters though, were quick to justify Arteta’s decision, offering a variety of reasons why he may have elected not to start the Ivory Coast international at the Vitality Stadium. Some fans focused on the defensive side of his game – with one naming Ryan Fraser as a key Bournemouth threat – while another pointed out how hectic the fixture schedule is at this time of year, and the subsequent need to manage the squad accordingly.
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One Gunners fan, more ominously, pointed to this being a recurring theme amongst all three of the club’s managers this season, as another insisted there was probably a good reason for that.
Obviously because he is terrible defensively.
— PG (@ThePGee) December 26, 2019
Do all our managers hate Pepe
— Ricky (@HarisonRamon) December 26, 2019
If all 3 of them take their time to bed him in, it’s probably for a reason
— Loïc (@LO_GRC) December 26, 2019
We have 3 league games in 6 days, he will play. Load management is important. Don’t panic! Arteta has a plan.
— Andrew Ferry (@abf_sound) December 26, 2019
Pepe doesn’t always fall back, starting him will give Bournemouth a chance to attack us through that wing with Ryan Fraser who is very versatile, pepe would be brought in when the defender on that wing is starting to get exhausted
— Mikaelfutplus (@ijeje_michael) December 26, 2019
Ultimately, whether it was the right decision from Arteta remains open to debate. Arsenal could only draw at Bournemouth but Pepe failed to take a shot or create a chance during his eight-minute substitute appearance, albeit also completing three dribbles.
Perhaps that was just enough to earn him a start next time out – but the extent to which Pepe features in Arteta’s vision for Arsenal going forward remains unclear at this stage.