Bukayo Saka could be handed new Arsenal role if Nicolas Pepe gets surprise call up vs Watford

Mikel Arteta has a big decision to make when it comes to naming his Arsenal attack against Watford.

And it’s not necessarily regarding top scorer Emile Smith Rowe who could be available for selection again after missing the 2-1 win over Wolves last week because of illness.

Whilst the 21-year-old’s return to fitness does give Arteta somewhat of a selection headache as Gabriel Martinelli’s place on the left-hand side is at risk, there’s been a clamor from some Gunners supporters for Nicolas Pepe to be rewarded with a rare Premier League start.

Despite only making two appearances since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, the Ivory Coast international has certainly made the most of his opportunities.

Most notably against Wolves as he scored the equalizer and played a key role as Alexandre Lacazette forced home the winner – that has since been credited as a Jose Sa own goal – to round off an incredible day in his personal and professional life.

“Pepe, he had a baby last night. At 2-3am he text me and said yeah, I want to come and help the team,” Arteta said after the game on talkSPORT’s Sports Bar. “So this thing happened and it isn ‘ t a coincidence, it’s because the togetherness and unity is there. ”

Furthermore, the Arsenal manager laid down a challenge for Pepe to earn more game time this season.

“He’s on the right path (to more game time) and when you’re able to do that and contribute to the team, you’re going to get more minutes,” the Spaniard said. “The more minutes you have, you need to make the most out of them in training every single day and show what you can do.

“He has the ability to do it, that’s for sure.”

But will Pepe be rewarded for his impressive cameo against Wolves when the Gunners take on Watford?



Nicolas Pepe will be looking for a run in the Arsenal side between now and the end of the season

If Pepe does start at Vicarage Road it can be considered a surprise decision by Arteta as the £ 72m club record signing has failed to do so in a Premier League game since the 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace all the way back in October.

Furthermore, he had found himself behind the likes of Smith Rowe, Martinelli and even Eddie Nketiah in the pecking order prior to the Africa Cup of Nations.

Should Pepe get the nod, it means Bukayo Saka could be set for a new – albeit familiar – role in the Arsenal side against Wolves.

A lot of time has passed since the 2021/22 season got underway and it may have been forgotten that the England international actually started it on the left-hand side of the Gunners front three.

After coming on as a substitute in the opener against Brentford, Saka operated from the left in four of Arsenal’s first five Premier League games and also against West Brom in the Carabao Cup second round.

Interestingly, it appeared that Pepe had won over Arteta following a strong end to last season as he started every league game he was available for up until the North London Derby at the end of September.

Does Pepe make it in your starting XI vs Watford? Pick below

In fact, it wasn’t until the 3-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur that it became clear that Saka was Arteta’s first-choice option on the right-wing, and subsequently, Pepe’s game time was reduced.

But if the pair are to start in the same side against the Hornets, one can assume it’s Saka that will switch flanks based on the tactical tweaks in the last two games.

When Pepe was introduced to proceedings in the second half against both Brentford and Wolves, it resulted in the 20-year-old making his way over to the left-wing.

And judging by his goal against the Bees and the threat he posed down that flank against Wolves, Saka is just as comfortable on either flank to justify Pepe’s inclusion on the right.

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