Arsenal’s record signing Nicolas Pepe claims he has not yet reached his best level at Emirates Stadium because of a reduced pre-season.
As per Sky Sports, Pepe completed a £72 million switch to Arsenal from Lille at the start of August, becoming the most expensive signing in the club’s history.
The Ivorian has featured in nine Premier League matches for the Gunners at the start of the 2019-20 season, with only a goal from the penalty spot and two assists to his name so far.
Pepe has faced plenty of criticism from fans and experts in recent weeks, but he came off the bench during a Europa League clash at home to Vitoria on Thursday and scored two brilliant free-kick to secure a 3-2 win for the Gunners.
That stunning cameo was a stark reminder of his unique talents, but the mercurial winger claims he is still “not at his best physically”.
Pepe has now explained the main reason behind his “difficult” start to life at Arsenal, insisting he has been playing catchup fitness-wise after starring for the Ivory Coast in the Africa Cup of Nations over the summer.
“It is a league totally different to Ligue 1, with a different intensity,” he told the Telegraph.
“For me, I had to adapt quickly because expectations were high. Unfortunately, it is not what I did at the beginning but I have always had the manager’s trust and the players have supported me.
“I keep working hard to perform well and adapt to the Premier League.
“The key is to have good people around you. I have my family here with me so I could 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 is important.
“I am not at my best physically because I didn’t have a proper pre-season like the others. I was at the Africa Cup of Nations. I started Lille by little and the manager knew about it. I am trying to work hard to be stronger physically to perform well.”
Pepe went on to credit Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Matteo Guendouzi for helping him to settle into new surroundings at the Emirates, before insisting he still enjoys Arsenal boss Unai Emery’s full “trust’ despite his recent struggles.
“As soon as I arrived they [Lacazette and Aubameyang] helped me,” he added.
“I talked a lot to them. Matteo [Guendouzi] too. I also manage to talk to the other players because it is important to learn the language to communicate with everyone.
“The manager trusts me. Even if I hadn’t been decisive for a while, I always had the manager’s trust. It is always important to have the manager’s faith.”