Pepe will come good for Gunners: Keown

Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe bending a free kick into the top corner, deep into stoppage time, to score his second goal and give the Gunners a 3-2 win over Vitoria in the Europa League.
Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe bending a free kick into the top corner, deep into stoppage time, to score his second goal and give the Gunners a 3-2 win over Vitoria in the Europa League.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Pundit Martin Keown has tipped Nicolas Pepe to finally show why Arsenal made him their record signing after he scored two late free kicks in Thursday's 3-2 Europa League win over Portuguese outfit Vitoria.

The Ivory Coast forward joined the Premier League side from Lille in the close season for £72 million (S$126 million), but he has struggled to get to grips with the physical nature of English football, with just one goal in 11 appearances before Thursday.

Unai Emery's side were heading for another defeat three days after losing to Sheffield United, but Pepe struck two superb set pieces, one in added time, as the hosts maintained their grip on Group F with nine points from three games.

Calling it a "turning point", former Arsenal defender Keown told BT Sport: "Every player needs that moment to settle and hopefully, Arsenal can see what they paid for.

"Basically, he's kind of got that pressure off his back now, and he can release himself now and play."

Former Arsenal striker Robin van Persie also backed Pepe to build on his first two goals from open play, claiming that it was his "moment to show everyone, here I am".

"I'm really happy for him," he said.

"It's great for him to score the winner. The price tag doesn't really matter. I'm pretty sure that after tonight, you will see a different Pepe to the last couple of months."

Emery, whose side had familiar defensive lapses that were seized on by Marcus Edwards and Bruno Duarte, either side of Gabriel Martinelli's leveller, also felt Pepe "can gain confidence from tonight".

"Nicolas is a very good player and we believe in him totally," the Arsenal boss added. "He's improving and continuing the adaptation in his process, and as soon as he can adapt, that's better for us."

In Belgrade, Manchester United claimed their first away win in any competition since March, a dismal run that had stretched 11 matches.

Anthony Martial's penalty was enough to keep the Red Devils on top of Group L with seven points from three games as they saw off Serbia's Partizan Belgrade 1-0.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2019, with the headline 'Pepe will come good for Gunners: Keown'. Print Edition | Subscribe