Ah, the Africa Cup of Nations.
The midseason tournament which sees some of the best players in the world depart their club sides for up to a month to fight it out to become champions on a football-mad continent.
This season, it is due to take place in January as normal, leaving the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City all without some of their star men.
The Africa Cup of Nations begins next month, with about 40 Premier League players set to miss several weeks of the season as they head to Cameroon.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) December 7, 2021
For the Gunners, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Thomas Partey will all be jetting off, Covid-19 permitting, to represent their countries at the tournament. Could this be playing a role in Mikel Arteta’s selection?
The curious case of Nicolas Pepe
Last season, Nicolas Pepe registered 10 goals and an assist in 29 Premier League appearances, which was enough to see him finish as the joint second-top goalscorer in the side, alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and only behind Alexandre Lacazette.
This season, however, the Ivorian has played just 7 times in the Premier League, of which only five were starts, and has seen just five minutes of action in the last 7 Premier League outings. For a man who remains the club-record signing, it is baffling.
Our record signing, Nicolas Pepe, has played five minutes in the last seven Premier League games and none at all in the three games Arsenal have lost.
— Orbinho (@Orbinho) December 6, 2021
Even in their last three defeats, one of the biggest goal threats has been nowhere to be seen.
To confuse matters further, when Gabriel Martinelli went down injured, it was soon to be out of contract striker Eddie Nketiah that replaced him, rather than the natural winger still committed to the club for a further 2 and a half years.
I find it really weird that Mikel Arteta opted to bring on Eddie Nketiah over Nicolas Pépé last night. Nketiah rejected a contract extension the day before the game. Why are we giving him the time of day now. Give the minutes to players who actually want to play for Arsenal.
— Connor Humm (@TikiTakaConnor) December 3, 2021
Quizzed on it after the lackluster defeat to Everton, Arteta revealed:
“He does every day in training what you see him do here. Every single day. That’s why I picked him”
Eddie seems likely to stay in January, if only due to a lack of alternatives in the attacking third.
Knowing that Aubameyang and Partey will both be departing anyway, and with the Africa Cup of Nations around the corner, is Mikel Arteta desperately trying to find solutions to his attacking problems without Pepe, who he is also set to lose for a month in January?
This article was edited by Josh Barker.
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