Since joining the Gunners for a £72 million record fee in 2019, the Ivorian failed to live up to expectations at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal’s legend, Alan Smith, believes Pepe and Willian need to improve under Mikel Arteta, in an interview with Evening Standard.
“We don’t actually know how good Pepe can become,” the 55-year-old said.
“Bought for a ridiculous sum (well done, Raul Sanllehi, Arsenal’s former head of football), the winger has yet to prove he can replicate his Lille form in red and white. Going further, you do have to wonder, looking at body language, how badly the lad wants to succeed.
“Willian is different. With an excellent track record at Chelsea, we know he has the ability to influence games.
“Arsenal’s coaching staff, in turn, were expecting him to elevate the side, turn it back into a top-four outfit. So far, it has been the opposite. But that doesn’t mean the Brazilian can’t come again in a side energised by youth and better results.
“That can easily happen. Just as talent can inspire, hard work and enthusiasm often prove infectious. If your team-mate alongside is busting a gut, you tend to follow suit out of support.”
Arteta gave chance to several youngsters, such as Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka, and Emile Smith Rowe to show their talents for the Gunners.
Smith praised the 20-year-old English playmaker and tipped him to become a key man for Arteta, comparing him to a star of the present and academy graduates of the past.
“The qualities of Emile Smith Rowe were less well known.
“Europa League football is one thing, but holding your own against Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante is quite another. Following on, his creativity and touch at West Brom brought back memories of Jack Wilshere bossing the play.
“As so often happens in these situations, Smith Rowe’s chance came about through desperation. Mikel Arteta didn’t seem all that keen to promote the playmaker, hoping instead that his senior stars would perk up. When they didn’t, there was no other choice.
“With Arteta’s credentials and decision-making getting widely questioned, the Spaniard turned to a player of unknown pedigree.
“So, let’s hope now that the success, enthusiasm and sheer effort of the youngsters rubs off on those around them, particularly the likes of Willian and Pepe — two figures that have often drifted through games looking disinterested.”