Former Arsenal striker Ian Wright believes Mikel Arteta made a mistake when having Willian ahead of Nicolas Pepe in the pecking order during the early stages of this season.
Arsenal, who will not compete in Europe next season for the first time in 25 years, rounded off their Premier League campaign in style yesterday afternoon, beating Brighton & Hove Albion 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium thanks to a second half double from Pepe.
For his first of the afternoon, the Ivory Coast international showed a sense of hunger to lash the ball home from close quarters, before his second was a cool and composed finish into the bottom corner.
The former Lille man’s double meant he ended the campaign with two braces in as many matches, following on from his goals in last Wednesday evening’s 3-1 win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, meaning he ended the season with a flourish, scoring five in his last three.
With Pepe now beginning to show signs of life in an Arsenal shirt, Match of the Day pundit Wright has questioned why he was overlooked by summer signing Willian during the first few months of the campaign, with the Brazilian, following his arrival from Chelsea, ahead of him in the pecking order for a berth on the right-wing.
“He’s scored 16 goals and got five assists and he is somebody that you would have like to have seen earlier on in the season,” Wright told BBC Sport’s Match of the Day.
“But he [Arteta] persisted with Willian and we saw how that worked out.
“But he is somebody that we know what he is capable of; he has got a lot of skill. This [his first vs Brighton] is a fantastic goal. The touch and the finish is brilliant, and he is somebody that we want to see more of, with Arsenal creating these types of chances, because we try to score these perfect goals all the time.
“It is not working out for us. But now, you see him getting into these types of positions and that is a beautiful finish [his second].
“He’s got five in his last three and, like I said, at the start of the season Arteta was showing faith in Willian and that hasn’t worked out.
“You are looking at goals what are needed from the midfield and from Arsenal. Joe Willock has been sent out on loan, Dani Ceballos hasn’t done great and what needs to happen now is that the summer needs to be massive.
“It is a big summer for us.”
Having ended the campaign with 16 goals in 47 appearances, Pepe will now be hoping to take that standard of form into next season and continue to justify his £72million price tag.
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Wright, though, is not the first person with Arsenal connections to have hailed Pepe’s recent form, with former Gunners midfielder Freddie Ljungberg recently telling BT Sport about the qualities he used to see from the former Lille man day in, day out on the training pitch at London Colney.
“I like him. He’s awkward to play against. Has good speed. One against one he’s very, very good,” Ljungberg told BT Sport.
“This [his goal] is what I saw in training every day and it’s what you want to see in every game.
“Of course there’s other parts of his game he needs to learn but if you can put him in these situations he’s lethal all the time.”