Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has insisted he has not lost faith in wingers Nicolas Pepe and Willian, despite both players failing to live up to their expensive price tags since moving to the Emirates Stadium.
Pepe, a £72m signing from Lille in 2019, has started just four Premier League games this season after failing to impress last year, and he has recently been joined on the bench by Willian, who has not had the desired impact since joining from Chelsea in the summer.
Both featured in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Southampton in the FA Cup, but neither managed to cover themselves in glory. Willian, who penned a three-year contract worth close to £220,000-a-week, was caught dwelling on the ball for the Saints’ goal, and many fans have already lost faith in the 32-year-old.
However, Arteta vowed to stand by the struggling duo, insisting in his post-match press conference (via the club’s official website) he still believes they are giving their all for the club.
When asked whether fans were right to demand more from the pair, Arteta responded: “Well, I don’t know. They’re entitled to ask for anything. What I’m saying is that they tried to give their best.
“You see how hard they tried, sometimes with more or less quality but the intention is there, and the willingness is there, and this is what we demand them to do. After that the decision making, the final pass, the final ball, the opportunities they have – it’s the end product. It’s the hardest thing in football.
“I want to think positively and think they are going to reach their level very soon. The way they train every day is to reach that level and we are here to support them again, and not to think in a negative way.”
The failure to defend their FA Cup crown also saw Arteta face questions about whether his squad is good enough to rotate in big games, with some claiming that the Gunners’ backup players simply don’t have the quality needed.
“I cannot complain about the squad that I have and the players I have,” Arteta added. “We are disappointed with the way we lost the game and the way we gave them the goal.
“Then when we got in the opponents’ box and we had chances, we didn’t hit the target. When you do that in this competition, and against this opponent, then you are out. But I don’t want to put that on any individuals, they all gave their best, they will keep trying to do that, and we are here to support them and try to improve them.”