Ian Wright has hailed the resurgence of Nicolas Pepe at Arsenal and credited the winger for putting in an increased effort to make his mark in recent matches.
The £72million signing struggled in his first season at the Emirates and was kept largely on the fringes at the start of this campaign.
But Pepe has been handed a greater run in the side of late and has repaid boss Mikel Arteta with three goals in his last seven appearances.
While Arteta admitted on Saturday he had been forced to rotate his squad given the congested fixture schedule, few would argue that Pepe is more than deserving of his place.
And Gunners legend Wright feels the Ivorian has upped his game since casting himself as the villain with his sending off against Leeds back in November.
“Since the red card, he’s worked a lot harder,” Wright told Optus Sport. “He’s got a lot more confidence, it is like the manager has said ‘get on the ball, and do your stuff’.
“He’s taking people on, working harder and then when he gets the ball, he’s being a lot more positive.
“He seems to have a certain amount of confidence, which I didn’t see earlier in the season. His value is nothing to do with him, you use him how he wants to be used. Him and Cedric have got a really good thing going, back him up.”
It was a feeling echoed by Wright’s former Arsenal captain Tony Adams, who admitted Pepe had proven him wrong.
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“I have been critical. Why did we need this player in the first place? Massive price-tag. £72 million and Saka, when we have got good kids coming through,” Adams told Stadium Astro.
“But hopefully he has put my criticism to bed, you know. He has put a performance in, and that’s what he needs to give himself a little bit of spark.
“The longer it goes in the Europa League, he is going to get more opportunities to play, gain that confidence and, who knows, next season he could be an exceptional player for us.”
Pepe was instrumental in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Leicester on Saturday, scoring one goal and winning the free-kick and the penalty from which his side’s other two goals came from.
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Most pleasing for his manager, though, was the fact Arteta was able to rest the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka and still get the desired result.
When asked whether he had found his system against Leicester, Arteta replied: “Depends on the players we have available, the moment the team is living and the game plan we want to produce against the opponents.
“It’s not that we have to rotate. I want to rotate and [give] the chance to the players. They deserve [it]. The way they train everyday, behind all the players.
“Only way to do it is to play them. You can use many ways to motivate but at the end of the day it is to be on the field. And I’m so pleased even making a lot of changes we were able to produce this performance.”