Ahead of Thursday night’s crucial Europa League tie against Benfica, Granit Xhaka was the player selected to hold a pre-match press conference for Arsenal, with the star raving about Nicolas Pepe.
Pepe, the side’s club-record signing at £72m per BBC Sport, has won back a stake as an important player for Mikel Arteta’s side since January.
The Ivorian has had his position changed slightly by the gaffer, with Pepe impressing in the few games he’s had as a left-winger as of late, in a slight shift that has also been ‘very good’ for Xhaka.
Xhaka, who stated that Pepe is ‘very important’ to the team and boasts ‘a lot of quality’, admitted that the 25-year-old has looked ‘very good’ on the left flank.
In response to the brilliant question from a journalist that was wondering whether a player like Pepe on the left is ‘better suited’ to Xhaka – who plays as a left central-midfielder – the Swiss star clearly agreed.
Xhaka expressed that having someone like the former Lille man, who is ‘very fast and can run in behind’, on the same side as wing-backs Cedric and Kieran Tierney who like the ‘ball at their feet’, has left the midfielder with ‘two options open’, which has of course been ‘very good’ for his own play.
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Granit Xhaka admitted that Nicolas Pepe has looked solid since a switch to left-wing, adding that this Arsenal change from Mikel Arteta has also been ‘very good’ for himself… pic.twitter.com/NRZkTLuMcR
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“Yeah, Pepe’s very important for us.”
“He has a lot of quality, last few weeks like you said as well, he’s played more on the left, he looks very good on the left if I’m honest, because I’ve seen him only on the right.”
“Yeah, important is to know the players that can play both positions. He made a difference in the last few weeks, Southampton for example when he scored, 1-1.”
“Yeah, if you have players like him, because they are very fast and can run in behind, with Cedric (Soares) or with Kieran (Tierney) on the left, they like to have the ball at their feet. You have two options open and this is very good for me.”
Xhaka explicitly referenced the 3-1 win against Southampton to highlight Pepe’s play on the left, the Ivory Coast international scored the equaliser after the Gunners fell behind early on in brilliant style.
Pepe looked just as assured in his next outing that come on the left side, with the skilful forward scoring a brilliant goal against Wolves, though the north London outfit fell to a 2-1 defeat marred by controversy.
It’s clear that Pepe’s switch has benefitted Xhaka quite a bit as well, he admitted as much with the ‘options open’ comment, the Ivorian’s move offers a more balanced attacking route down the left.