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Mikel Arteta has Nicolas Pepe hope as he explains reason for £72m star's Arsenal struggles

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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta admits that Nicolas Pepe is struggling with his price tag in the Premier League. The Ivory Coast international arrived from Lille for £72million in the summer but has managed just three Premier League goals in his 21 appearances for the Gunners so far.

He was the man former manager Unai Emery pinned his hopes on to turn Arsenal back into top four contenders – instead their tally of just six wins from 25 games is their worst return since 1913 when the club was still known as Woolwich Arsenal.

But it is the weight of expectation rather than the burden of history which Arteta feels is to blame for Pepe’s slow start.

“The price that we paid for him puts him in a difficult position straight away because he’s going to be compared to players of that calibre,” Arteta said.

“He was in France and was one of the biggest stars in the league. He had an incredible year.

“Now he comes here and a lot of people didn’t even know him and you paid that price tag.

“So for him to put his brain into this picture and solve all this is not easy. And he’s a really young player.”

Arteta still thinks, though, that the 24-year-old can show his worth.

“It’s not easy to adapt to this league but he’s putting in the effort and he’s willing to do it,” the Arsenal manager said. “And it will come out.

“First of all he needs the right structure behind him to be able to provide the moments of quality and winning games, whether it’s assists, goals, dribbles or whatever it is.

“Afterwards he needs to have a much clearer picture of the things that are happening on the pitch, why they are happening and how he can solve them.

“I think he’s in the process of doing that. I hope we can see it from now to the end of the season.”

Arteta was pleased with what he felt was a productive winter break but going into the game against Newcastle he admitted his players still have to overcome the mental hurdle almost of remembering how to win.

“I think winning takes you to winning the next game and the confidence related to that is huge,” he said.

“In football the mental aspect is more important than anything else so when you are doubting yourself and your ability to win games, obviously the confidence is affected.

“But that’s again part of something we need to go over and improve. The moment that comes I think it will generate naturally another dynamic.”

Arsenal return to action against Newcastle after a two-week winter break and Arteta said of the north Londoners’ warm-weather training camp: “It was like a mini pre-season for us in Dubai. We had time to work on a lot of our principles, how we want to set up against different formations, the relevant things we need to work on and off the ball.

“Apart from that it was great to be a little bit together, spend some time together, get to know each other, not just with the players but the staff and backroom staff. It was a very productive trip.

“I wanted to give them a few days rest because they had been through a lot of things in the last few months.

“After that we reflected on what we did together in the last five or six weeks since I joined, the things that we improved and they are very positive and we have to maintain them and the things we have to improve and develop.

“It worked really well. We agreed. We set some targets. We started to work on them. Hopefully we can see the outcome in the next few weeks.”

Probable Arsenal XI to face Newcastle: Leno; Bellerin, Mustafi, Luiz, Kolasinac; Torreira, Xhaka; Aubameyang, Ozil, Pepe; Lacazette.

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Europa League: Mikel Arteta warns Arsenal stars to show their mettle at Olympiacos

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‘If they hide, I don’t like it’: Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta warns his players to show their mettle away at Olympiacos in first leg of last-32 Europa League tie

  • Arsenal face Olympiacos away in the first leg of their last-32 Europa League tie 
  • Mikel Arteta is gearing up for his first European match in charge of the Gunners
  • The Arsenal boss is expecting a tough test and hostile atmosphere on Thursday
  • He has warned his Arsenal players not to go hiding at the Karaiskakis Stadium

Mikel Arteta has warned his players not to go hiding when they resume their Europa League bid against Olympiakos.

Arsenal face the Greek league leaders in the first leg of their last-32 tie on Thursday and know exactly what to expect at the Karaiskakis Stadium, where Olympiacos have lost just once this season.

Arteta has watched plenty of Pedro Martins’ side ahead of his first European game in charge of Arsenal while he has also been able to call on the insight of Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

Mikel Arteta is gearing up for his first European match in charge of Arsenal on Thursday night

Mikel Arteta is gearing up for his first European match in charge of Arsenal on Thursday night

Sokratis Papastathopoulos knows a tough test awaits the Gunners against Olympiacos

Sokratis Papastathopoulos knows a tough test awaits the Gunners against Olympiacos

Sokratis Papastathopoulos knows a tough test awaits the Gunners against Olympiacos

ARSENAL’S LIKELY XI

ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): 

Leno; Bellerin, Sokratis, Mustafi, Kolasinac; Willock, Xhaka; Pepe, Ceballos, Martinelli; Lacazette

The Greece centre-back knows that a ‘tense’ atmosphere awaits Arsenal as well as opponents who are used to winning. Arteta, meanwhile, is wary of their passion and quality.

It will be a serious test of character for Arsenal’s players, particularly the younger ones Arteta selects, and he said: ‘It is part of the process. You don’t know until you expose them [how they will handle it].

‘They can have the best intention but they need to go to a stadium like here and when they make a mistake or a bad decision, have the courage to try again and play again.

Arteta's side head into the Europa League clash in confident form after beating Newcastle 4-0

Arteta's side head into the Europa League clash in confident form after beating Newcastle 4-0

Arteta’s side head into the Europa League clash in confident form after beating Newcastle 4-0

Matteo Guendouzi has travelled with Arsenal's squad after being axed against the Magpies

Matteo Guendouzi has travelled with Arsenal's squad after being axed against the Magpies

Matteo Guendouzi has travelled with Arsenal’s squad after being axed against the Magpies

‘And I want to see that in my players, whether they are 17 or 35. That’s what I expect from them.

‘If they keep trying, they have my full support. If they hide after that, I don’t like it.

‘But what I’ve seen up to now, every time they play on that field they are responding really, really well. That’s what I am hoping and I am sure they will do it tomorrow.’

Arsenal have travelled without Mesut Ozil, who has stayed behind as his wife is expecting their first child imminently.

Matteo Guendouzi is part of the squad Arteta brought to Greece after being axed for Sunday’s win at Newcastle having angered the Spaniard with his attitude during Arsenal’s winter break training camp in Dubai.

Mesut Ozil has stayed behind in London as his wife is expecting their first child imminently

Mesut Ozil has stayed behind in London as his wife is expecting their first child imminently

Mesut Ozil has stayed behind in London as his wife is expecting their first child imminently



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Arsenal confirm fresh double blow as 5 players miss Olympiacos clash

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Arsenal have provided a team news update ahead of Thursday night’s Europa League clash with Olympiacos and we’ve been handed a major double blow.

Unfortunately, Mesut Ozil has been ruled out of the game in Athens tomorrow evening as the playmaker has been given personal leave to be with his wife for the birth of their child.

Lucas Torreira also hasn’t travelled with the first team squad to Greece as he’s been struck down by illness. The club says the midfield could yet make the trip on his own if he improves over the coming hours but I personally don’t see that happening. Is Torreira really going to overcome this illness in a matter of hours, fly to Greece and start in a huge game on Thursday night? I don’t think so.

It’s a big blow to be without two influential players like Ozil and Torreira for what will be a crucial first leg in our last-32 tie and Mikel Arteta will also be unable to call upon the services of three other first team players tomorrow.

Calum Chambers won’t play again this season after undergoing surgery on an ACL injury while Kieran Tierney isn’t ready yet as he’s not expected to resume full training until later this month having suffered a shoulder injury late last year.

January signing Cedric Soares is still working his way back to full fitness from a knee injury that he was nursing when he arrived on loan from Southampton so a total of five players are unavailable against Olympiacos.

However, there is some positive news on the injury front as Arsenal have confirmed Pablo Mari is available and could make his debut after building up his fitness with 90 minutes for the U23’s on Monday. I still think it’s highly unlikely Mari will start against Olympiacos but it’s still nice to have another option in defence.

This is what the team news update on Arsenal.com said earlier:

Calum Chambers
Left knee. Ruptured anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee during Chelsea (h) on 29 December. Successful surgery completed. Rehabilitation process expected to take between six to nine months.

Pablo Mari
Available for selection.

Mesut Ozil
Will miss Olympiacos (a) due to personal reasons.

Cedric Soares
Left knee. Progressing well with gym work. Aiming to be in full training by the end of February.

Lucas Torreira
Has not travelled on the club flight to Athens on Wednesday due to illness. Being assessed in the next 24 hours. If there is a significant improvement will fly to Athens in time for the match.

Kieran Tierney
Right shoulder. Dislocated right shoulder during West Ham Utd (a) on 9 December. Good progress being made in rehabilitation process and has commenced participation in group training sessions. Aiming to be in back in full training by the end of February.



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Are Arsenal set for Europa League upset against Olympiacos amid Premier League struggles?

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Arsenal return to Europa League football to take on a familiar foe in Olympiacos – a team they have beaten four times and lost another four in the past. The Gunners are the obvious favourites ahead of Thursday’s clash at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium (8pm) but the Greek Superleague leaders are not likely to give them an easy night in Athens.

The north Londoners hold an advantage over Pedro Martins’ side as they undoubtedly have more quality in their squad and will profit out of their opposition’s difficult fixtures list.

After the Europa League Round of 32 first leg Olympiacos will take on league rivals PAOK at the fiery Toumba Stadium in Salonica on Sunday a few days before their return leg at the Emirates.

The Piraeus outfit haven’t won the league in two seasons, which is something unprecedented as they have conquered the title 18 times in the last 22 years.

They are now determined to put an end to that run and a loss to last season’s titleholders would frustrate their plans, even though it wouldn’t have a critical impact as the Superleague champions will be determined via play offs this season.

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But by the time the second leg comes up on February 27 (8pm) Olympiacos are likely to be knackered and Arsenal, who will be coming from a home match against Everton, are very likely to benefit from it.

However, the match in London is a long time away and the fixture in Greece will be a completely different story as Martins’ men have been flying at home with the Georgios Karaiskakis crowd acting as their 12th player.

Olympiacos will greatly miss Daniel Podence, who joined Wolves during the January transfer window, as he was instrumental in unlocking tight defences as proven in the 2-2 draw against Tottenham in September.

However, the Greeks are undefeated in the league, with only four losses in total this season to Spurs, Red Star Belgrade and Bayern Munich, twice, in the Champions League.

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Tottenham have struggled this season but have been better than their north London rivals as their position in the Premier League table suggests.

And even though they never lost to Olympiacos they still conceded four goals in two matches, should the Greeks repeat that feat in the two knockout matches then they could well upset Arsenal.

The chances of the Piraeus giants getting on the scoresheet are quite high as they have netted a staggering 50 goals in 24 league matches this season and have only conceded nine times – they also recorded eight goals in six Champions League matches.

Arsenal, on the other hand have conceded a whopping 34 goals in 26 Premier League matches and also picked the ball out of their own net seven times in six Europa League matches against the likes of Eintracht Frankfurt, Standard Liege and Vitoria.

Although Mikel Arteta’s fragile defence won’t have to deal with Podence’s skills, they will still have to be alert as Olympiacos’ attack shouldn’t be underestimated.

The team’s best player Kostas Fortounis is regaining fitness after coming back from cruciate ligament injury and their leading goalscorer Youssef El Arabi has been on fire with a total of 22 goals in 33 matches in all competitions.

They will both be getting a lot of help from former France international Mathieu Valbuena, who has been instrumental this season with 18 assists in 27 matches all season.

Olympiacos’ attack, though, do have one major issue and that is that El-Arabi is the only fit striker they have declared in their European squad as they lost former Nottingham Forest ace Hillal Soudani to an injury that will keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.

Martins will focus on the midfield so that he can cut Arsenal’s counter attacks, contain Mesut Ozil’s brilliance and dictate the pace.

Much will be expected by Arteta’s midfield which will be going up against the likes of Mahdi Camara, Guilherme and Andreas Bouchalakis who haven’t been rock-solid this season.

But Ruben Semedo has been a rock in Olympiacos’ defence and much depends on him when he faces Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Gabriel Martinelli.

The match in Greece will be difficult to predict but if Arsenal get on the scoresheet then the return fixture will become much easier for the Premier league giants who are the undoubted favourites to go through.

However, Olympiacos do have the means to make the second leg a dramatic affair and if the Gunners’ defence and midfield don’t get it together in Greece then an upset can in no way be ruled out.

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