The Europa League often provides an excellent opportunity for players on the fringes of the squad to stake their claim for further involvement, and that was certainly the case for Arsenal on Thursday night.
As Mikel Arteta’s side secured a 3-0 victory at home to Dundalk the Arsenal manager was left with plenty to think about as he contemplates what his best starting line-up should be.
Eddie Nketiah put Arsenal in the ascendancy, with Joe Willock and Nicolas Pepe also scoring with fine finishes.
Nicolas Pepe demonstrated why he deserves further chances with his display versus Dundalk
Pepe scored in the early stages of the second half to make it 3-0 with a spectacular strike
The winger is congratulated by Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac after scoring
Pepe’s goal in particular stood out as he controlled the ball expertly before finding the top corner in spectacular fashion.
There was much expectation surrounding Pepe following his £72million switch from Lille last year but he has only impressed in patches in the ensuing period and hasn’t been a regular starter in the Premier League this season.
Arsenal have various other wide options, including Willian and Bukayo Saka, and the latter has certainly demonstrated his importance to the Gunners.
Pepe, though, is also in need of more playing time and could potentially form a dangerous front three with Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Ivory Coast international can be incredibly frustrating to watch at times, but he is capable of producing spectacular moments, for instance his goals against Manchester United and Brighton last season.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has stressed that Pepe needs to perform more consistently
The key for Pepe is to perform on a consistent basis, which is something Arteta acknowledged after the win against Dundalk.
‘He’s not been first choice in all of the games at the moment but he’s played a lot of moments,’ Arteta said. ‘Some have been better than others.
‘It’s about finding the consistency, not through the games but during the games as well to be more incisive, and do the right things on many occasions when he has to make the right decision on the pitch.’
Arteta stressed that Pepe has to be more clinical, as demonstrated by the fact that he has scored just 10 goals in 52 appearances for Arsenal.
He said: ‘It’s nothing to do with his attitude. He’s a player who takes risks, a very creative player – that’s the most difficult thing in football, when the opposition know what you can do, how much they want to prevent the space, and creating situations from that is complicated.
‘But sometimes it’s the simple things, the deliveries, the amount of situations he’s able to create or attract and then make the right decision to keep evolving that phase of play.
‘For example, the finishing, the position inside the box, he has to be more consistent at it. We’re working on it, and hopefully he will be doing it much more efficiently.’
Joe Willock, who hasn’t played in the league this season, showed he should get playing time
Willock, meanwhile, has found himself on the periphery of proceedings in the early stages of the campaign.
Last season he was heavily involved, featuring 44 times across all competitions, but this time around the young midfielder has yet to play in the league.
The 21-year-old seized a rare opportunity to impress against Dundalk as he caught the eye, not only with his goal, but with his all-round performance, which included him creating chances and pushing forward with regularity.
That ability to burst into the penalty area from midfield is something that Arsenal have been sorely lacking in the early stages of this season, and Willock is capable of providing them with a different dimension.
Willock may not be at the stage yet where he is ready to start every game, but he should at least be getting more chances.
Compared to this time last year Willock appears much more astute tactically, and he has also demonstrated that he can play out wide as a substitute.
Willock’s ability to burst forward from midfield is something that Arsenal have sorely lacked
His passion for the club is also undeniable, having risen through the ranks from the age of four and having overcome setbacks along the way, which included him being close to leaving at one stage.
There had been suggestions that Willock could be sent on loan so he could play regularly, but he has the ability to make an impact for Arsenal right now.
Both Pepe and Willock are far from perfect and can sometimes make questionable decisions when in possession, but their directness and urgency could prove to be very useful for Arsenal.
Arsenal’s build-up play of late has often been very slow and at times key players such as Aubameyang have been left isolated.
Arteta has options at his disposal to make Arsenal a more effective and dynamic side, which could prove to be key if they are to finish in the top four this season.