Saturday should have seen Barcelona host Atletico Madrid in LaLiga and pit Antoine Griezmann against his old club once more.

Griezmann left Atleti for Camp Nou in the second most expensive transfer of the previous close season, his €120million move eclipsed only by Joao Felix, the man bought to replace him.

Neither player has exactly enjoyed a resoundingly triumphant season, which is an affliction to hit many of the top 10 most expensive transfers of 2019.

We look at each of those players and whether their signings have, until now, been a hit or a miss...

 

JOAO FELIX: Benfica to Atletico Madrid (€126m)

Benfica and Portugal's golden boy scored in pre-season victories over Juventus and Real Madrid to give Atleti fans reason to believe the post-Griezmann future was bright.

However, just six goals in 28 competitive appearances later, doubts have been growing as to whether the 20-year-old forward will ever truly suit Diego Simeone's system.

VERDICT: MISS

ANTOINE GRIEZMANN: Atletico Madrid to Barcelona (€120m)

Griezmann vowed to stay at Atletico in 2018 only to change his mind a year later, and his performances for Barca are in keeping with a man not quite at ease in his surroundings.

Only Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez better his goal involvements for the Blaugrana in LaLiga this term (eight goals and four assists), while he is second only to Messi for chances created (26), but fans were entitled to expect more from the club's latest mega-money forward.

VERDICT: MISS

EDEN HAZARD: Chelsea to Real Madrid (€100m)

Chelsea fans feared the worst when their star man was lost during a transfer embargo, but things have hardly gone swimmingly for Hazard at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Injury problems have restricted him to just nine starts and a solitary goal and assist in LaLiga. He has also only created 14 chances, as many as James Rodriguez (who has started just four league games) and Lucas Vazquez (who has started six).

VERDICT: MISS

HARRY MAGUIRE: Leicester City to Manchester United (€87m)

The world's most expensive central defender might not be thought of as the world's best, but that should not detract from his impact on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side.

He leads the way for duels won, aerial duels won, blocks and interceptions among United defenders in the Premier League this season, helping them to eight clean sheets. Oh, and he's already been made club captain.

VERDICT: HIT

MATTHIJS DE LIGT: Ajax to Juventus (€85m)

The most coveted centre-back of the window after Ajax's remarkable Champions League run, De Ligt delivered a dreadful performance on his Juventus debut in a 4-3 win over Napoli.

He has won the most aerial duels and has the pass success rate of any Juve defender to feature more than five times in Serie A this term, but there are already doubts about his long-term suitability to Maurizio Sarri's side.

VERDICT: MISS

LUCAS HERNANDEZ: Atletico Madrid to Bayern Munich (€80m)

Bayern smashed their transfer record to sign defender Hernandez, but injuries have made it difficult to assess whether the money will prove to be well-spent.

A knee problem in September was followed by a serious ankle injury that kept him out for nearly four months, meaning he has started only nine games in all competitions for the Bundesliga champions.

VERDICT: MISS

NICOLAS PEPE: Lille to Arsenal (€80m)

Pepe was something of a symbol of Unai Emery's problematic final few weeks in charge as he struggled badly to find form for the Gunners.

He has certainly shown signs of improvement in 2020 – only Mesut Ozil (38) has created more chances in the league than Pepe (34) for Arsenal – but fans will have hoped for more from their record signing.

VERDICT: MISS

FRENKIE DE JONG: Ajax to Barcelona (€75m)

Another Ajax star who became coveted by clubs across Europe last year, De Jong opted for Barca and immediately became a regular in midfield.

He has not quite adapted to life in LaLiga - Ernesto Valverde's exit and Quique Setien's arrival as coach did not help - but, in turbulent times for the club, he looks to be a safe bet as the beating heart of Barca for years to come: he had created more chances (24) than any other Barca midfielder this term and only Sergio Busquets has more recoveries and interceptions.

VERDICT: HIT

RODRI: Atletico Madrid to Manchester City (€70m)

Manchester City's record signing has proved a smart bit of a business given midfield-anchor supreme Fernandinho has spent much of this season in defence.

Rodri has attempted more passes (1,996), recorded a better passing accuracy (92 per cent) and more recoveries (181) than any other City midfielder in 2019-20. He looks very much at home in Pep Guardiola's system.

VERDICT: HIT

ROMELU LUKAKU: Manchester United to Inter (€65m)

Lukaku's move to Inter seems to have been that rarity in modern-day transfers: a deal that has worked out well for everyone concerned.

United's attack is taking the more fluid shape Solskjaer wants, Antonio Conte at last got the forward he tried to bring to Juventus and Chelsea, and Lukaku has looked in the form of his career, with 17 goals and two assists in Serie A as part of a fearsome partnership with Lautaro Martinez.

VERDICT: HIT

Alexandre Lacazette scored for the first time since December to put the gloss on a much-needed 4-0 win for Arsenal and head coach Mikel Arteta against Newcastle United on Sunday.

Arsenal came into the clash at Emirates Stadium level on points with visitors Newcastle, having won just six times in the Premier League this season - and only once since Arteta's December appointment.

But after a frustrating opening period, the influential Nicolas Pepe laid on a goal for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the 54th minute, and Pepe himself scored three minutes later to all but settle the contest.

Mesut Ozil added another in the 90th minute, before substitute Lacazette, who last netted against Standard Liege on December 12, got in on the act in stoppage time.

Arteta, who revealed before the match he turned down an approach from Newcastle while still an assistant at Manchester City, could enjoy the closing stages of a precious victory, with Arsenal climbing back up to 10th and within sight of the European places.

Newcastle's set-pieces had caused early problems for Arsenal, and Sean Longstaff's deflected strike forced a scrambling save from Bernd Leno, before Joelinton awkwardly stabbed wide from six yards moments later.

Martin Dubravka was not troubled for over half an hour, but Arsenal pressure built heading into half-time as the Newcastle goalkeeper made stops from Aubameyang, Eddie Nketiah and Pepe.

The hosts were on the front foot again following the restart, and Pepe danced to the byline before cutting a cross back for Nketiah, who volleyed against the crossbar.

The opener soon followed, with Aubameyang towering over Valentino Lazaro to head Pepe's right-wing delivery across Dubravka into the bottom-right corner.

And the second came less than three minutes after the first, as Bukayo Saka nutmegged Lazaro on the left and squared for Pepe to sweep low inside the near post.

Ciaran Clark skewed wide from a great position in the area when teed up by Allan Saint-Maximin, who himself hit the post with a fine curling effort, but there was no dramatic Newcastle recovery.

Ozil's close-range finish deceived Dubravka for a scruffy third Arsenal goal, before Lacazette's own slightly untidy effort found the top-right corner to spark a joyous celebration.


What does it mean? Arsenal still finding their feet

There was some hope Arteta might have shaped a much-improved Arsenal over the recent mid-season break, but that did not appear to be the case in the first half. The Gunners struggled to break Newcastle down, before their quality came to the fore in a frantic spell. There would appear to be plenty still to do to restore Arsenal to their former glories despite this big win.

Purposeful Pepe

This has not been a wholly successful first season in England for Pepe, but there are signs he is rediscovering the form that convinced Arsenal to splash out a club-record fee last year. The winger was Arsenal's best player in a testing first half and then turned the game on its head with an assist and a goal within 12 minutes of the restart.

Lazaro loses out

Newcastle's new wing-back, making his full Premier League debut, enjoyed a promising first half, getting forward to good effect down the right while standing up to Saka going the other way. But he was later twice beaten for the crucial goals, first unable to challenge Aubameyang in the air and then embarrassed by Saka's trickery.

What's next?

Arsenal have a trip to Olympiacos in the Europa League on Thursday before their next league assignment at home to Everton. Newcastle have a clear midweek but are then back in the capital next Saturday to visit Crystal Palace.

Nicolas Pepe earned his first inclusion of the season in FIFA Ultimate Team's Team of the Week thanks to his eye-catching display against Manchester United.

The reported £72million signing from Lille endured a difficult first few months in an Arsenal jersey, struggling to recapture the form he showed in France over the previous two campaigns.

But in the 2-0 win over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men, Pepe opened the scoring and was a constant livewire, troubling United's backline with his trickery, movement and general unpredictability.

With some European leagues enjoying a mid-season break, the latest FUT selection is rather Premier League-dominated, with five players from the division in the starting XI, while there are another six England-based representatives among the substitutes and reserves.

Joining Pepe in the starting XI are the likes of Real Madrid's Raphael Varane, Alejandro Gomez of Atalanta and Lazio's Ciro Immobile.

Below, we take a look at the entire squad that is set to be available online.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

GK: Salvatore Sirigu (Torino) – 86

RB: Jesus Corona (Porto) – 84

CB: Domenico Criscito (Genoa) – 82

CB: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) – 87

RM: Nicolas Pepe (Arsenal) – 85

CM: James Maddison (Leicester City) – 84

LM: Gerard Deulofeu (Watford) – 83

LW: Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) – 84

CAM: Alejandro Gomez (Atalanta) – 87

ST: Ciro Immobile (Lazio) – 89

ST: Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City) – 84

SUBSTITUTES

GK: Odisseas Vlachodimos (Benfica) – 83

CB: Mouctar Diakhaby (Valencia) – 81

CDM: Mark Noble (West Ham) – 81

CAM: Marko Livaja (AEK Athens) – 81

LW: Ricardo Horta (Sporting Braga) – 82

ST: Enes Unal (Real Valladolid) – 81

ST: Nicky Maynard (Mansfield Town) – 81

RESERVES

GK: Paul Farman (Stevenage) – 72

CM: Uros Racic (Famalicao) – 79

RM: Tyrese Campbell (Stoke City) – 75

ST: Nahki Wells (QPR) – 78

ST: Matt Godden (Coventry City) – 75

Marcelo Bielsa insists Mikel Arteta has more credentials than just being a previous member of Pep Guardiola's coaching staff at Manchester City.

Arteta took over as Arsenal head coach in December following the dismissal of Unai Emery, the former midfielder leaving his position as Guardiola's assistant at the Premier League champions to take over at his old club.

The Gunners drew their first match under Arteta against Bournemouth before going down to Chelsea in his second game, though he claimed his first victory with a 2-0 win over Manchester United on New Year's Day.

Arsenal host Leeds United in the FA Cup third round on Monday, with Arteta praising Bielsa in his pre-match news conference.

Bielsa, returning the favour, believes Arteta has the potential to become a great coach on his own merit.

"I think that Guardiola is the best manager in the world and as a great manager of course he distributes responsibility to his staff," Bielsa told a news conference when asked how much impact Guardiola will have had on Arteta.

"Arteta's position on his staff was tough. It was important work, an important job. Arsenal didn't choose him just because he was a member of staff for Guardiola. This is just one fact. He is a person that has more qualities.

"The profile of one person depends on the job you have. If you are a manager, you have more media [attention]; if you are an assistant, you have less.

"When Arsenal play more matches, we are going to see more of the manager. In three matches, all he can do is try to get results. To make changes, you need a process and to keep doing this for a long time, but I can imagine how Arteta works."

One player who has already seemingly benefitted from Arteta's introduction at Arsenal has been Nicolas Pepe, who put in an impressive display against United, scoring the Gunners' opener eight minutes in.

Bielsa, who coached Pepe at Lille, believes the winger – who has so far failed to recapture the form he showed in Ligue 1 last term – will go on to prove his quality in the Premier League.

"Pepe is a great player with big resources and he is a goalscorer," Bielsa added. 

"He's a player who is able to unbalance a match. Obvious skills, then you have all of these skills in one player. It's just a matter of time to show those skills.

"He has shown them clearly. One thing is to have the skills, another is to have the skills and show it on the pitch. He does both. He has clearly shown his skills and is at a club where he deserves to be."

Paul Pogba has been advised to have an operation to address his ankle injury, according to Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Solskjaer had expected Pogba to be fit to join the United squad against Arsenal but revealed that the midfielder's ankle problem could leave him sidelined for longer than anticipated.

Pogba played in United's 2-0 defeat at Watford on December 22, making a rare appearance in a three-month spell of injury problems, and featured again when United beat Newcastle United 4-1 on Boxing Day.

After watching his side lose 2-0 to Arsenal at Emirates Stadium, Solskjaer was asked how long he expects Pogba to remain on the sidelines, and he told BT Sport: "I don't know, three or four weeks maybe.

"He's been advised to have an operation by his people and he'll probably do that."

Solskjaer went on to clarify the club's involvement in Pogba's treatment, telling reporters: "He's had scans, it's nothing major, it's something that has to be sorted within a timeframe.

"He's been advised to do it soon as, and he'll probably do it soon as. We have had consultants looking at him. The scans have been done by us."

United went behind to a Nicolas Pepe strike after eight minutes in North London, and Arsenal doubled their lead through Sokratis Papastathopoulos just before half-time.

Solskjaer suggested his players may have been affected by fatigue after playing five games in 13 days prior to the trip to Arsenal.

"We started off decent but didn't capitalise on the two or three counter-attacks we had," said Solskjaer.

"We were too slow to things and too slow on the ball. That's credit to them because I thought Arsenal played really well. On and off the ball I thought they were excellent. We had some tired heads, maybe.

"We kept going, we pushed them back, created half-decent chances but the quality in our finishing wasn't good enough."

Nicolas Pepe has hit far cleaner shots in his career but, for him and Mikel Arteta, it's unlikely many will have felt sweeter.

Arsenal's record signing had plenty of time and space to size up Sead Kolasinac's cut-back but still could not connect properly with the ball. But connect he did, and Arsenal, Arteta's Arsenal, had lift-off.

Not only was this the new head coach's first win in charge, it was just the Gunners' second in all competitions since October 24. Thirteen of 14 matches had come and gone without a victory, including those against Crystal Palace, Vitoria Guimaraes, Southampton, Norwich City, Bournemouth, and Chelsea in brutal fashion three days ago.

Pepe had looked a lost cause in some of those matches, a £72million passenger this team could no longer carry. Well, not against Manchester United. He dominated the right wing, left Luke Shaw on his backside and switched play with confidence. His eighth-minute goal was a little scruffy, but it was deserved reward for a determined, defiant performance, and perhaps a sign of what is to come under Arteta: it lifted the players to new levels, gave the Emirates crowd its voice again, and meant Sokratis Papastathopoulos' close-range second came as little surprise.

But what, exactly, is to come for United? The defeat is only the second they have suffered since the end of November, but it followed a pattern that suggests many more will follow in the new year.

In United's previous league defeats to Bournemouth, Newcastle United and Watford, they started poorly, fell behind, and that was that. The story was the same here, at a stadium where setbacks have come to be expected, where Chelsea were outplayed for an hour only to win 2-1 just days ago.

However, the fact is Solskjaer's United – far, far too often for their manager's liking – can be beaten simply if the opposition work harder. Pepe wasn't the only one to show that: the more Alexandre Lacazette harried the unsettled Harry Maguire, the more David Luiz scampered across the back to snuff out any threat, the more it became clear that this was Arsenal's game for the taking.

United made a habit of starting matches in 2019 as though they were already 4-0 up; a day into the new decade, it's a problem Solskjaer has still not solved. Well, he will certainly have to this month. Their season depends on it.

Wolves, Manchester City (twice), and Liverpool must all be faced in the coming four weeks, along with Norwich City and Burnley, teams in need of Premier League points. By the end of January, United could be in the fourth round of the FA Cup, the EFL Cup final and find themselves firmly in a top-four race. Or not.

With Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba likely to miss all of those matches due to injury, perhaps the transfer market will offer the solutions Solskjaer cannot find. Salvation in the January window is never guaranteed, though – and who is to say a new signing would fix what is clearly a problem of mentality, rather than talent?

Arteta is thought to be exploring the market, too, and this win, commendable as it was, does not mean Arsenal's problems have evaporated. Better, more focused teams will still pick apart this defence, just as Manchester City did last month.

But what a Pepe pep-up for the new year.

Mikel Arteta tasted victory for the first time since taking charge of Arsenal after Nicolas Pepe's third league goal of the season put his side on course for a 2-0 victory over Manchester United at Emirates Stadium.

Ivory Coast international Pepe capitalised on a nervous start to the game by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side, who lost for only the second time in 10 league games after failing to expose Arsenal's flaws in the way Chelsea had done in a 2-1 win on the same ground three days earlier.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos doubled Arsenal's lead just before half-time and the hosts' improvement was testament to Arteta's impact on a squad that has appeared disjointed for much of this season.

The revived performances of Mesut Ozil and Granit Xhaka in the Gunners' midfield will have particularly pleased the coach, who delivered Arsenal's second victory in 13 gruelling Premier League games that had seen them drop into the bottom half of the table, this result lifting them back up to 10th and offering cause for optimism at the start of 2020.

Marcus Rashford sent a shot dipping into Bernd Leno's arms from 25 yards in the first minute as United showed their threat on the break.

But Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's trickery set Sead Kolasinac free in the United box after just eight minutes and his cross deflected into the path of Pepe, who swept into the net from 12 yards to get the hosts off to an excellent start.

Pepe went agonisingly close to doubling Arsenal's lead seven minutes before half-time when David de Gea's careless clearance fell to him 20 yards out and he curled a shot onto the post with the United goalkeeper flailing.

But Arsenal kept the pressure on an embattled United defence and got their reward when Alexandre Lacazette flicked a corner into a crowd of defenders before it bounced to Sokratis, who lashed it high into the net from close range.

Fred tied his luck with a rising shot from 25 yards 10 minutes into the second half, but Leno claimed it comfortably as United struggled to create the space they needed to trouble Arsenal.

Nemanja Matic did carve out an opportunity with a clever ball into the area a few moments later but substitute Andreas Pereira hit the side-netting with his angled effort.

A foot injury to Kolasinac was the only fly in the ointment for Arsenal, who will hope this victory marks the beginning of a push towards a place in the top six that only recently looked very much beyond them.

 

What does it mean? The end of a long wait at the Emirates

Arsenal's previous home victory in the Premier League came all the way back on October 6, when they beat Bournemouth 1-0, but the way Arteta's men stuck to their task and bettered United all over the pitch will have satisfied fans as much as the result.

Attack the best form of defence for Kolasinac

Kolasinac's surging runs gave United no rest as Arsenal attacked with an extra man throughout the first half, and he kept up his all-action display down the left flank to ensure Ozil always had an option out wide.

Martial goes missing

The service directed towards him was intermittent, but when Anthony Martial did receive the ball in dangerous areas he was too often slow to react and opted to isolate himself in an advanced position rather than dropping deep to help his toiling midfield colleagues.

What's next?

Arsenal are at home again on Monday when Leeds United visit in the FA Cup, following the Red Devils' trip to Wolves in the same competition on Saturday.

Mikel Arteta has challenged Arsenal's much-maligned record signing Nicolas Pepe to show the work ethic and willingness to fulfil his "absolutely top" potential.

Pepe rose to prominence with Ligue 1 side Lille over the previous two seasons, scoring 35 top-flight goals for the club as he marked himself as a potential star of the future.

Although many of the world's biggest clubs were said to be interested in him, Arsenal managed to bring the Ivory Coast international to England in July, making him the costliest signing in their history at a reported £72million.

However, in 16 Premier League matches since, Pepe has only managed three assists and two goals, with his general performances falling some way short of expectations.

New Arsenal coach Arteta is credited with having a big impact on the improvements of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane at Manchester City, and he is confident Pepe can find a similar level if he applies himself.

"I think, obviously, it was a big change to come from France to here," Arteta told reporters ahead of Sunday's clash with Chelsea.

"As well, he found a team that, in the moment he wasn't performing at his best, the environment for him to settle wasn't ideal, so it's not only about him.

"We're here to help him. If he's willing to learn, to work hard, I assure you he has the potential be top, absolutely top.

"He showed in two or three actions [in the 1-1 draw with Bournemouth on December 26] how good he can be, but he has to be consistent."

It was put to Arteta that Pepe is simply suffering from a lack of confidence, though the Spaniard suggested belief works both ways as he highlighted the importance of the collective in getting players to reach their desired level.

He added: "The problem with confidence is he's only confident if he plays, or he has [the] confidence [of] the manager if he trains well enough to convince me to have confidence in him. I think it has to be a mix between the two.

"But the overall structure, the way we play and approach the game and the things we do on these pitches is going to help them [the players].

"We can't demand the strikers or attacking players to generate things like [the flick of a switch] – they have to have the play that sustains everything together and arrive in better positions as many times as possible to then be able to create as many situations as we want."

After hosting Chelsea on Sunday, Manchester United are Arsenal's visitors on New Year's Day. The Gunners then face Leeds United in the FA Cup on January 6 at Emirates Stadium.

Kieran Tierney will miss three months of action after Arsenal announced the defender will have surgery on his dislocated shoulder.

The former Celtic full-back, signed for a reported £25million in August, hurt his right shoulder against West Ham on Monday after falling awkwardly in his own penalty area.

Arsenal confirmed a significant blow for the 22-year-old on Saturday, saying he "will undergo surgery next week and rehabilitate for around three months".

Tierney joined the club during rehabilitation for a pelvic injury, limiting him to 11 appearances across all competitions.

In more positive news for the Gunners, Nicolas Pepe has been declared available for selection ahead of Sunday's home Premier League match with Manchester City.

Forward Pepe had suffered bruising to his left knee after scoring in the 3-1 win away at West Ham.

But Rob Holding (knee), Dani Ceballos (hamstring), Hector Bellerin (hamstring) and Granit Xhaka (concussion) are all out.

Bellerin and Ceballos are hoping to return to training next week, while Holding is expected to be back before the end of the month. Xhaka, meanwhile, will be managed under concussion protocol rules.

Freddie Ljungberg always knew it would take Nicolas Pepe time to find his feet in the Premier League - so he was thrilled to see the Arsenal forward turn on the style.

Signed in August from Lille for an Arsenal club record fee of £72million, the 24-year-old Ivory Coast international has struggled to make the transition to the English top flight.

However, a sparkling goal and an assist from Pepe against West Ham on Monday helped interim boss Ljungberg guide Arsenal to a 3-1 win at London Stadium.

Pepe's all-round performance impressed Ljungberg, with the former Gunners midfielder acknowledging the price tag for Pepe means there is an expectation that he should consistently deliver.

"People always ask me about Nico and I try to explain," Ljungberg said. "He comes from the French league to the Premier League, in my opinion, the best league in the world, it's a lot faster and a lot harder.

"He needs to adapt and people put pressure on him and it's not easy, but I thought what he did [on Monday], he worked really hard offensively and defensively and showed his quality.

"I'm so pleased for him because at the same time he was a big, big buy for the club and there comes pressure with that as well."

Ljungberg predicted Pepe would "fall asleep with a smile on his face" after his goal, which was sandwiched by strikes from team-mates Gabriel Martinelli and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Arsenal's goals came in a nine-minute burst midway through the second half, after Angelo Ogbonna gave West Ham a 38th-minute lead.

It meant that for the first time since beating Chelsea 5-3 at Stamford Bridge in October 2011, the Gunners managed to win a Premier League away game in which they were trailing at half-time.

Victory lifted Arsenal to ninth place - two points off Manchester United in fifth - and left West Ham struggling in 16th.

Freddie Ljungberg is keen to get record signing Nicolas Pepe on track after a misfiring start at Arsenal.

Pepe moved to Emirates Stadium from Lille for £72million in August, but the 24-year-old winger only has a solitary goal to show for his efforts in 12 Premier League appearances.

During Ljungberg's first game as interim head coach, Sunday's 2-2 draw at Norwich City, Pepe looked on as an unused substitute and he last started a top-flight match against Crystal Palace at the end of October.

Nevertheless, with Brighton and Hove Albion the next visitors to north London on Thursday, Ljungberg wants to help the Ivory Coast international reboot his fledgling Gunners career.

"Nico is someone who is a very, very good player. Sometimes when you come from a different league it takes time to adapt – on the pitch and off the pitch," the ex-Highbury favourite told reporters.

"I plan on having a little chat with him about how he feels. He's an important football player but that [the content of the conversation] will remain between me and him.

"I just think it's a new country, a new way of playing. I'm just going to have a little chat with him about what I expect from how I want to play."

While Pepe's problem is his form at Arsenal, Ljungberg's concerns for 20-year-old striker Eddie Nketiah centre on his lack of game time during his ongoing loan spell at Leeds United.

Nketiah's 11 Championship appearances and three league goals for Marcelo Bielsa's side have come from the bench and Ljungberg, who worked in Arsenal's youth setup before stepping up to the first-team coaching staff this season, questioned the benefit of his current predicament.

"I need to be careful [about what I say]. I think Eddie is a great football player," he said, with Arsenal drawn to face Leeds in the third round of the FA Cup next month.

"People who go on loan, we want them to play football and get minutes, otherwise they can maybe be here.

"The minutes are why we want them to be on loan. I feel a bit sorry for him because he's a great, great player. The future of this club.

"When he's had his chance he's scored goals. That's what Eddie's about."

Whether a recall for Nketiah or new signings are on the agenda, Ljungberg is not keen to involve himself in any January transfer window planning at this stage, given the temporary nature of his role.

"At the moment I'm just looking at the next game. We have Brighton," he added.

"I don't look at the transfer window. If I'm there at that time then maybe it's a discussion to be had.

"But I'm here on a game to game basis and that's what I'm trying to fix."

Wilfried Zaha will be motivated to do damage against Arsenal on Sunday, Unai Emery has warned his players.

Crystal Palace winger Zaha was heavily linked with a move to Emirates Stadium during the close season but a reported £100million price tag ultimately saw the Gunners turn their attentions towards signing Nicolas Pepe from Lille.

Palace make the short trip to north London this weekend, seeking to pile further domestic misery on Emery's men at the end of a week they began with a 1-0 loss at Sheffield United.

And the former Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain boss has little doubt over where the main danger lies, despite Zaha – a goalscorer in Palace's 3-2 win in last season's corresponding fixture – failing to find the net so far this term.

"He's a very good player and he has made the difference in a lot of matches – against us, against other teams. And this year the same," Emery said of Zaha.

"For us it is [about] our players – our capacity, here at the Emirates. On Sunday, Crystal Palace are coming here feeling good. Zaha is a very good player and is coming here very motivated.

"Our challenge is how we can stop him but, above all, how we can battle them using our whole capacity."

Pepe's form has been patchy since becoming Arsenal's record signing but he was one of the few visiting players to emerge from Bramall Lane with some credit, before netting twice to seal Thursday's dramatic Europa League comeback win over Vitoria Guimaraes.

"We signed Pepe, not for two months or six months, or one year or two years. [We signed him] for a process with us," said Emery, whose side lie fifth in the Premier League – a point and a place above Palace.

"The process is coming, little by little, better for his performance and to help us with his quality.

"I don’t know if he is going to play or not on Sunday but he is going to be ready and also he is going to be more confident after the [Guimaraes] match."

Emery added: "We are very happy with Pepe and we know we are wanting more. But it is a process and I know we need patience and to be calm with him, help him and protect him because sometimes he can feel he is playing under pressure.

"For us and for me, when we are ready to play under pressure is when we can be better."

Unai Emery was left frustrated after he was pressed over Mesut Ozil's future at Arsenal following his decision to leave the playmaker out against Vitoria SC.

Ozil has featured just twice for the Gunners this term, starting against Watford and Nottingham Forest in the Premier League and EFL Cup respectively.

However, the 31-year-old is yet to be named in a Europa League match squad as Emery continues to omit him from the first-team picture.

But when asked to comment on Ozil's future following Arsenal's fortunate 3-2 victory over Vitoria on Thursday, Emery swiftly rebuffed the questions.

"I think tonight is not the time to speak about that," Emery told a news conference.

"I prefer to speak about the match and about the players that played.

"He wasn't in the squad and that was the decision and we will now work for Sunday [against Crystal Palace]."

One player who did come on to make an impact at Emirates Stadium was Nicolas Pepe, whose late double secured the points in dramatic fashion, and Emery believes Arsenal will soon be seeing the best of their club-record signing, who has been slow to adapt to English football.

"Usually every new player needs time to adapt and Pepe is a very good player, we believe in him totally," Emery affirmed.

"Also what he's doing sometimes feels better, sometimes more difficult depending on the opposition. But he's improving, tonight that's two goals which are very important for us and for him.

"He's continuing his adaptation process and the quicker he does that, the better it is for us. We are very happy for him because those two goals were perfect.

"He was trying a lot of set pieces on the training ground this week and I was expecting him to shoot because I was positive about having a situation like that.

"I think the most important thing is three points and how some individuals can improve and become more confident."

Arsenal's victory leaves them top of Group F with maximum points from three games played, while the Gunners sit fifth in the Premier League following their defeat to Sheffield United on Monday.

Hector Bellerin insisted Arsenal's squad had no doubt over the quality of Nicolas Pepe after the club's record signing scored a brace to secure a dramatic Europa League win over Vitoria SC.

Pepe had scored only once for the Gunners prior to Thursday's Europa League Group F clash at the Emirates Stadium, but the former Lille star took his tally to three with two free-kicks.

Having replaced the ineffective Alexandre Lacazette, Pepe curled home an 80th-minute equaliser before snatching a 3-2 win in stoppage time.

Despite having had to wait for his team-mate to come to the fore in an Arsenal shirt, Bellerin never had any concerns over Pepe's ability to come up with moments of match-winning brilliance.

"We know what he's capable of, we've been training with him for a long time now and know how good he has been in the last couple of seasons," Bellerin said.

"Sometimes coming to another country, a new league, takes adaptation, but it's going to be very important for him and the team he scored those two goals.

"Also, goals sometimes from individual actions. We have to play as a team but sometimes goals come from those moments of magic that makes you go from 2-1 down to 3-2 up. It's important for us as a club to know we have these different resources."

Arsenal's win was far from deserved on the balance of play, with Vitoria – who took an early lead through former ex-Tottenham youngster Marcus Edwards – having had a host of chances

Edwards' opener was cancelled out by Gabriel Martinelli, who has now scored four goals from three starts across all competitions this term.

"It's really important for his confidence and the team to keep pushing," Bellerin added when asked to comment on Martinelli's display.

"It's not just about his confidence but also about his fight, the spirit he brings to the team. He's very young, he's got a lot to learn but everything that he's doing is positive, he's helping the team, helping himself and everyone is happy he keeps scoring."

Bruno Duarte restored Vitoria's lead following Martinelli's equaliser and, until Pepe stepped into the fray, Arsenal looked set to be heading to a humiliating defeat, but Bellerin believes the manner of their victory can give the Gunners confidence.

"To be able to win games all in different ways is great," he said.

"The last match in the Europa League it was a 4-0 win, now towards the end we were still 2-0 down so I think it's very important for the confidence of the team to see that we can win every single game, whether things are against us or in our favour."

Nicolas Pepe salvaged a fortuitous Europa League win for Arsenal as Unai Emery's side twice came from behind to overcome Vitoria SC 3-2.

Heading into Thursday's Group F meeting on the back of six successive home wins in European competition, Arsenal were well below par on Thursday, but substitute Pepe stepped up with a late double.

The result was far more than Arsenal were worth, with Vitoria - who took the lead through ex-Tottenham youngster Marcus Edwards early on - having crafted some excellent opportunities.

Gabriel Martinelli's equaliser had brightened Arsenal's prospects midway through the first half, though the Brazilian's header was swiftly cancelled out by Bruno Duarte.

But it was the much-maligned Pepe who had the final say with two devastating free-kicks - his second a spectacular effort in stoppage time which clinched the points.

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