Belfast Telegraph

Pepe calls on Arsenal players to step up as Arteta speculation builds

Manchester City assistant was at Arsenal on Sunday and could be set for a permanent return.

Mikel Arteta is the favourite for the Arsenal job (John Walton/PA)
Mikel Arteta is the favourite for the Arsenal job (John Walton/PA)

By PA Sport Staff

Nicolas Pepe insists it is up to the Arsenal players to “wake up” and find a response to a run of just one win from 12 games as he refused to point the finger of blame at interim head coach Freddie Ljungberg.

The Gunners slumped to a 3-0 home defeat to reigning Premier League champions Manchester City on Sunday as Kevin De Bruyne’s first-half masterclass tore them to shreds.

The Belgium international struck twice, either side of teeing up Raheem Sterling for the second, as Pep Guardiola’s side eased to victory in north London.

While the result sees City move to within four points of second-placed Leicester, Arsenal are now as close to the relegation zone as they are to the top four.

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Freddie Ljungberg is Arsenal’s interim manager (Adam Davy/PA)

Ljungberg replaced Unai Emery following his sacking last month but has won just one of his four league games at the helm as a poor run of form continues.

The dugout uncertainty remains for now, with Arsenal not commenting on images of managing director Vinai Venkatesham at the house of City assistant Mikel Arteta, who is now the red hot favourite for the job.

According to reports, the two clubs are in talks over the availability of the Spaniard, who spent five years as a player at Arsenal, including a spell as captain.

City also declined to comment on Arteta’s future, but Guardiola said after Sunday’s game: “What will happen I don’t know.”

Pepe, who was passed fit to face City following a knee injury, believes, while the situation continues, the blame lays purely at the door of the squad.

It is about us, not the coach or anything else. We have to wake up quickly Pepe

“Us players have to do better quickly,” the club-record signing said. “We have won only one game out of the last 12. It is not enough, we are Arsenal.

“It is about us, not the coach or anything else. We have to wake up quickly, starting against Everton.

“Freddie tries hard, he talks to us, but nothing has changed much in terms of results. It’s down to us the players, not the coach.

“Freddie is close to us because he used to be a player not long ago. He knows what we feel so it’s easier for us to talk with him. We will continue to work hard to make things better and win again.”

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Mikel Arteta was back at the Emirates on Sunday (John Walton/PA)

Pepe also said the uncertainty over the full-time successor to Emery is not having an adverse effect on the team and still feels finishing in the top four is a possibility.

“We are not disturbed by the managerial situation,” he added. “I had a similar situation in Lille and we kept going. With hard work, it will get better with Freddie or someone else.

“We have big games coming up. We need to keep working so we can get this fourth place.

“We understand the fans. After conceding three goals, they are not happy. They are Arsenal fans, they are used to winning. We need to give them the taste of victory again.”

Meanwhile, the fallout to Mesut Ozil’s social media post relating to Chinese treatment of Uighur Muslims continues, with reports on Monday saying Arsenal’s loss to City was cut from Chinese television schedules in response.

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Mesut Ozil has been in the news (John Walton/PA)

Arsenal posted on their Weibo page that the club “always adheres to the principles” of not getting involved in politics, but the Chinese Foreign Ministry, quoted on the BBC, said Ozil had been deceived by “fake news” in his criticisms.

For City, it was a fine reaction to losing to Manchester United in their previous Premier League game as De Bruyne shone for the visitors.

The 28-year-old has scored four goals in his last five club games and praised the way City bounced back from their derby disappointment, with the win in north London leaving them 14 points adrift of leaders Liverpool.

“We know we have not been at our best this year, but we keep on fighting and there’s still a lot of games to play for us,” he told mancity.com.

“Overall, it was a really good performance and reaction. Other teams lost points around us, so it was good to get the win today.

“Every time you lose a game, you try to show a reaction in the next one, even though this year we have lost points, every time we come back with a win.”

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