Unai Emery was asked about Nicolas Pepe ahead of Saturday evening’s trip to Anfield. Everyone is wondering whether or not the club’s record signing is going to start, and be part of that new attacking trident alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.

As ever with the Spaniard, there’s a kind of ambiguity in what he said about him. I think this is a quirk of his English, but he so often says things which can be taken up in different ways. In this instance, he said:

He is three weeks into working here with us. He didn’t do the pre-season here but he’s progressively feeling better. For example, in the first match, he played 15 minutes in Newcastle, then he played 45 minutes against Burnley.

I think his individual performances are progressively getting better. For Saturday, he is maybe ready to have more minutes.

Now, does he means more minutes in that he’ll just play a bit more at some point during the game, or more minutes than the 45 he got against Newcastle Burnley? If it’s the former, then Pepe could well be held in reserve against Liverpool, but if it’s the latter it must surely hint at a start because for all his bold substitutions, it’d be weird to make one during the first half. I’m leaning towards the more minutes in the first meaning, where he’ll simply get additional minutes to ones he already has under his belt, but the prospect of him starting against Liverpool is an exciting one. More on that game, and the team we might play, in tomorrow’s preview post.

Meanwhile, if being left out of the squad entirely for the first two games of the season wasn’t a clear enough message to Shkodran Mustafi that his future lies elsewhere, Emery has hammered it home with another public declaration about the defender’s need to find himself a new club. Speaking about him, as well as Mohamed Elneny, the Arsenal boss said:

They are going to have fewer chances to show their capacity or to be happy with us and the minutes they play in matches. But they know the situation and really I am wishing the best for them. I think now the best for them is to be protagonists in another team and to get another challenge for themselves.

I think it is positive for them to leave and sign for another team where they can be protagonists and be happy and continue their careers.

This comes off the back of another story a couple of weeks ago in which Emery revealed he’d told Mustafi weeks previously that he could/should leave Arsenal before the end of the European transfer window. I mean, there’s no pussyfooting around here.

Unai Emery breaking up with a girlfriend

“Good ebening. It’s not me. It’s you. It’s 100% you. I just want to be clear. I told you some weeks ago there was the possibility it’s you. And it’s definitely you. Not me. You. Also, in case you’re in any doubt, I have taken out a full-page ad in The Times which says that it’s you. With a picture of you and the word YOU in 140pt Helvetica with an arrow point directly at you from the big YOU.”

I think we all could see last season that Elneny was not a player he fancied. The Egyptian barely played 300 minutes of Premier League football, so the writing was very much on the wall in his case. The fact he missed most of pre-season because of his international commitments didn’t help his cause at all, and it won’t have come as any surprise to him or his camp that Arsenal would like to move him on.

With Mustafi it is a bit different. He played a lot last season, and was fully involved in pre-season, the US tour and so on. Again though, it seems as if Emery has been quite up front with him about playing time, and being left out of the squad will have left the player in no doubt his services are no longer required. However, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that a player aware of this is quite content to take it as it comes. If there’s a move, ok. If not, they’re happy enough here and maybe a place in the squad will open up due to injury/suspension or whatever.

I do wonder if the fact it’s being made so public is the club’s way of putting pressure on the players to sort things out. Maybe it’s just Emery’s no-nonsense style, or something that comes across as more direct and to the point because of the limitations of his English, but it’s unusual for an Arsenal manager to be quite so brutally honest about a player’s future. He’s told them both they’re not going to play much, if at all, so the ball is in their court.

The difficulty part is finding those ‘new challenges’. I suspect Elneny will have little trouble. He’s an average, if unexciting player, who could do a decent job for any number of clubs across Europe and won’t cost a fortune. With Mustafi, it’s a bit more complicated. There’s the £35m fee we paid – a large chunk of which we’re going to have write off because even in the current market there’s no way anyone will pay anything close to that – and the fact his reputation has taken a serious hit due to the high profile errors he’s made. The Zaha clip from last season on its own would give anyone potentially interested in him some pause for thought, so it’ll be interesting to see where he might end up and whether it’s permanent or on loan. September 2nd is the deadline for most of Europe, so let’s see what happens.

Right, I’ll leave you this morning with a brand new Arsecast, chatting about the Josh Kroenke interview and much more with David Ornstein, before we have some Liverpool waffle with the Mugsmasher. All the links you need to listen/subscribe are below. Have at it!

DownloadiTunesSpotifyAcastRSS