Arsenal legend Martin Keown ‘feels sorry’ for Nicolas Pepe, with the £72million signing the odd man out in Mikel Arteta’s latest reshuffle. The Ivorian looked to be finding some form on the left-hand side of the Gunners front-three in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s absence.
However, since the captain’s return, Pepe has been relegated to the substitutes’ bench, with Emile Smith Rowe taking his position and Martin Odegaard playing centrally.
That change got off to the perfect start in the 4-2 win over Leeds, but failed to have the same impact in the 1-1 draw with Benfica.
Arteta’s side created countless chances in the Europa League clash, but were forced to settle for a first-leg draw on a frustrating evening in Rome.
Speaking after the draw, Keown suggested that Odegaard, who signed on loan from Real Madrid last month, is still lacking a bit of fitness and is yet to show his true potential.
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Keown went on to suggest that he has some concerns with Smith Rowe’s change of position, after the academy graduate made such a brilliant start to his senior Arsenal career playing as a No.10.
He added: “The reservations I have is Emile Smith Rowe was playing especially well in that position.
“Now, perhaps he didn’t feel he was getting enough from Pepe defensively so Smith Rowe’s gone into that position. Now you’ve got Saka and Smith Rowe in wide positions.
“They have really good movement, tuck inside nicely, they give that space for the full-backs to get wide and they know when to press.
“But maybe they lose a little bit, for the timebeing, until Odegaard is ready to match speed. There were glimpses of really good play.”
On Pepe, the former centre-back believes that Smith Rowe’s ‘defensive compass’ means Arteta can trust him to execute the press better.
“I feel sorry for him because he did really well for a couple of games. But they lost those games. And he’s searching for the right balance with the ball and without the ball.
“With Smith Rowe I think his defensive compass is better than Pepe’s. He really works hard. As does Saka. That press has been better.”