Mikel Arteta says he has seen a different Nicolas Pepe since the winger returned from Afcon and has called on Arsenals record signing to replicate the prolific scoring form he produced at the end of last season.

The Gunners’ £72 million star produced his best run of form since his move from Lille in 2019 when he struck eight goals in 11 games during the closing weeks of the 2020/21 campaign.

He has struggled to replicate that from this season, however, netting just twice in all competitions, but Arteta believes the 26-year-old now looks ready to find his top gear once again after some impressive recent performances at international level.

Pepe hasn’t started a league game for Arsenal since October and is expected to be named on the bench once again for Saturday’s game against Brentford.

But speaking ahead of that match, Arteta praised the way his winger has worked since returning from Afcon, where he scored twice in four games for Ivory Coast.

The Arsenal boss said: “Since he has come back, I have seen a different Nico.

“I don’t know what it is, probably he has realised the importance of the end of the season for him.

“His attitude, his smile, the way he is communicating with everybody, his energy.The way he has trained. His efficiency in training. His application.

“His energy has changed. I think he felt important again. Probably he felt like a proper football player that can win tournaments and felt ‘ok, this is me now’.

“He needed that and I’m really pleased with that.”

Pepe will have just two years left on his contract at the end of the season and doubts have been raised whether he will still be at Arsenal beyond the summer.

When asked whether he felt the winger believes he has a long-term future at the club, Arteta said: “I hope he does, but I understand that when a player doesn’t play he is disappointed.

“Nico has been disappointed because he wanted to have more minutes, but hopefully he can play many more minutes and he can contribute to the team because he has the ability to do it.

“He had a brilliant end of the season last year. He can replicate that.

“We need him at his best because everybody is going to contribute. We are a really short squad at the moment and we need it and hopefully he has understood that we want to play him.

“I don’t want to have a player like him sitting on the bench and not using him and the moment I have chances I want to give him a chance.”

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