Nicolas Pepe is in his best run of form since joining Arsenal but still needs guidance to improve his game, claims manager Mikel Arteta.
The club-record signing has struggled to make a lasting impression at the Emirates Stadium following his £72million arrival from Lille in August 2019.
He has not been an automatic starter despite the price tag and Arteta has previously called on the Ivory Coast winger to add more consistency to his game.
Pepe now appears to be doing that – his fine strike in the 2-1 defeat at Wolves on Tuesday was his third goal in his last four Premier League starts.
The 25-year-old has stood up at just the right time, with captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missing three games as his mother suffered from “health issues”.
Arteta felt Pepe’s performance at Molineux was the best display he has seen from the player and called for him to maintain his high level of performance.
Asked about his display at Wolves, Arteta replied: “If you ask me personally what I think of the performance that he put in overall, in all the phases of the game, I think it is the best he has played.
“And his contribution is the best that he has done and he needs to sustain that. When you have momentum in football, when you have to earn the right to play, then you cannot lose it.
“In order to do that you need to do the basics right and keep doing what you are doing. If not, you know that someone else will be knocking on your door.”
Speaking after Pepe’s penalty settled a quarter-final tie at Sheffield United en route to winning the FA Cup last season, Arteta said the forward was a “free spirit”.
While not wanting to shackle that, Arteta still wants Pepe to take on board the advice and counsel offered to him by the club.
“I don’t know how much he wants it but he needs guidance,” added the Gunners boss ahead of Saturday’s trip to Aston Villa.
“And he needs clarity in what he needs to do, then he needs the discipline on the pitch to do what he needs to do.
“Obviously he needs the freedom in certain moments to express himself as a player. You cannot restrict that for sure.”
Another player Arteta was keen on not restricting is midfielder Joe Willock – who left for Newcastle on deadline day, signing for the Magpies on loan until the end of the season.
Arteta explained that he allowed Ainsley Maitland-Niles to join West Brom on a similar deal to give the England international a chance to play more minutes in his preferred position of midfield, while for Willock it was all about getting him game time at the business end of the season.
“Joe’s situation was very clear to me,” he said.
“We spoke in the summer about a possible loan and I said to him that I was not comfortable with that as I wanted to give him minutes to play different competitions.
“In my opinion it was the right thing to do for his development. He has played 17 or 18 games in this period which is a lot.
“He has played to a big level and now we have less competitions and I thought that he would have less time and probably the best thing to do would be to give him 14,15, 16 games in the Premier League.
“To have 30-32 games in one season for his age and what he has done in the past few years it would be a really positive thing.
“We found the right club manager and coaching staff. So hopefully it will be a successful period for him.”