The club’s record signing has revealed he felt the pressure to hit the ground running but has been hoping to kick on after Thursday’s match-winning display
Nicolas Pepe admitted after his match-winning cameo against Vitoria that he has struggled to deal with the big expectations that come with being Arsenal’s club-record signing.
But the winger, who scored two sumptuous free-kicks in the final 10 minutes on Thursday night to earn the Gunners a 3-2 win in the Europa League, stated that there has been much more to come and thanked Unai Emery for the unwavering belief he has shown in him.
“Of course [I knew it would be harder],” said Pepe. “It has been a league totally different to Ligue 1, with a different intensity.
“For me, I had to adapt quickly because expectations were high. Unfortunately, that has been not what I did at the beginning but I have always had the manager’s trust and the players have supported me.
“I am not at my best physically because I didn’t have a proper pre-season like the others as I was at the Africa Cup of Nations. I am trying to work hard to be stronger physically to perform well and adapt to the Premier League.”
Going into Thursday night’s game with Vitoria, Pepe had scored just once for Arsenal in his first 11 appearances in all competitions.
But having been brought off the bench to replace Alexandre Lacazette with the Gunners trailing 2-1, he netted twice against the Portuguese side to snatch a dramatic victory for his side and ease the pressure on Emery.
Arsenal now sit top of Group F with three wins from three and look well set to go and comfortably secure their passage through to the knockout stage of the competition.
Emery descried it as an “important night” for Pepe – with the winger admitting his double will give his confidence a much-needed boost.
“Scoring two goals has been good for the confidence,” said the winger. “But the most important thing has been that there was a win at the end. It showed our mental strength and our character.
“We had already done it against Aston Villa where we were behind and came back. Now, we can focus on the Crystal Palace game [on Sunday] which will arrive very quickly.”
Pepe added: “It’s been hard [to keep my confidence high], but the manager trusts me. Even if I haven’t been decisive for a while, I always had the manager’s trust. It has been always important to have the manager’s faith.
“The key has been to have good people around you. I have my family here with me so I can be good mentally, especially when things are not going well. I rely a lot on them. For me, it was always going to be difficult to come here in the unknown, with a different language. So to have my family with me has been important.
“It’s not easy starting out here but I’m beginning to find my feet with the help of my team-mates.”
Pepe will be looking to build on his match-winning display when Crystal Palace visit the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Arsenal are in desperate need of a win against the Eagles as they look to bounce back from Monday’s disappointment at Sheffield United and Emery could start with Pepe, Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the first time.
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Lacazette and Aubameyang have been key to helping Pepe settle since his move from Lille and the 24-year-old has been hoping they can go on to form an impressive partnership on the pitch.
“As soon as I arrived they helped me,” said Pepe. “I talked a lot to them.
“We have played very little together, maybe just around 30 minutes. But we get on well. For us, it has been [important] to understand each other. I hope we will play more together.”