Nicolas Pepe celebrated in the tunnel after the victory over Vitoria Guimaraes
Unai Emery called Nicolas Pepe’s match-winning impact “perfect” after Arsenal’s record signing scored two brilliant free-kicks to maintain their winning Europa League start.
The £72m summer signing from Lyon came off the bench to curl home two goals in the last 10 minutes, turning a 2-1 deficit to Portuguese side Vitoria Guimaraes into victory.
“We are very happy for him and for us,” said Gunners boss Emery
“Those two goals were perfect.”
The Ivory Coast winger had scored just one goal in 11 appearances prior to Thursday night’s win at Emirates Stadium, as he struggled to live up to his price tag.
The pressure on him increased on Monday when he missed a sitter in the defeat by Sheffield United – skewing a golden chance from six yards out in the first half – but his manager insists he always had faith.
Emery, whose side strengthened their grip at the top of Group F, said: “The most important thing is the three points and that some individual players can improve, that they can take confidence for us and for them.
“Every player, usually, they need time to adapt. Pepe is a very good player and we believe in him, totally.
“The way he’s going, sometimes he feels better, sometimes it’s with more difficulty on the pitch.
“He’s improving and tonight those two goals are really important for us first, and then secondly for him. He’s continuing the adaptation in his process and as soon as he can adapt, that’s better for us.”
Is this the moment Pepe finally arrived at Arsenal
Pepe’s heroics in the last 10 minutes prompted former Arsenal defender Martin Keown to say “now we are going to see how good he really is”.
“Everybody has got to have that first moment at a club,” Keown added on BT Sport. “The fans were worried because Bukayo Saka looked a better player but now maybe they have two great players. This is the chance to launch his Arsenal career.”
And Arsenal team-mate Hector Bellerin said the team “know what he’s capable of”.
“We knew how good he’s been in the last couple of seasons,” he added. “Sometimes coming to another country and coming into another league can take time but I think this is going to be very important for the team and very important for him to score these two goals.
“It’s important that goals can sometimes come from individual actions. We want to play as a team but sometimes you need these players to produce these moments of magic.”
How you reacted on social media…
Justin Deslauriers: NEVER DOUBTED HIM
Tomasz: Pepe is here!
Nakamu: 20 YEAR CONTRACT NEEDED!
Mikel Campbell: My 72M is finally paying off.
BadboyKola: He is gonna tear the league now!
Patrick Timmons: You were warned. Once Nicolas Pépé finds his feet, he’s going to be a different beast.