Arsenal hope that Nicolas Pepe’s match-winning performance against West Ham United proves to be the turning point in the winger’s season, with goalkeeper Bernd Leno describing his ability as “unbelievable”.
Pepe scored Arsenal’s second and created their third as Freddie Ljungberg’s side came from behind to end a nine-match unbeaten run in all competitions.
The club’s record signing, who cost £72 million, has struggled for consistency in his first season in England, and Monday’s night trip to West Ham was his first league start since October.
“It was a hard time for him,” said Leno. “But I think that is normal when you come to the Premier League. The Premier League is very hard, very tough, and it takes time to get used to it.
“But on Monday and also in the last weeks you could see how much quality he has. When he is working like Monday and also in the last games, he can be a key player for us.
“His left foot is unbelievable. Also his one-against-one against defenders is unbelievable. When he has space, he can be a key player for us in transition. I think and I am sure that we will have a lot of fun with him.”
Arsenal were trailing at half-time against West Ham and Leno revealed that Ljungberg urged them to play with more bravery and freedom in the second half.
The interim head coach’s prospects of being appointed on a permanent basis will be strengthened if the West Ham victory prompts a consistent upturn in performances.
“He was analysing,” said Leno of Ljungberg. “He was showing us some situations that we needed to play braver. We exactly did this. It’s a good feeling. I think we all missed this feeling.
“He was calm but in a very straight way. It wasn’t like everybody didn’t try. We tried. But you could feel that we didn’t we play in a free way. I think he made us more free to play.
“You could see that in the second half. After the second and third goal, you could see how we can play, with more confidence. I think this is the real Arsenal.
“From the first day he said he wanted to see laughing faces. He wanted to see a good atmosphere.
“Freddie is doing a very good job. The team know about his quality, about the way he wants to play. We want to play like this, with possession, keeping the ball, pressing very high and also with transition.”