Mikel Arteta has revealed that Nicolas Pepe’s wife had a baby the night before the Wolves game, but Pepe insisted on playing anyway.
Nicolas Pepe was the game-changer on Thursday night, coming off the bench to score one and set up the other as Arsenal turned things around to win against Wolves in the dying moments.
The winger’s smart turn and finish for the opening goal was coolness personified, and his willingness to chase down a lost cause and turn it into the winning goal in the 95th minute ensured Arsenal left with all three points.
Yet it could have all been so different. The night before the game, Pepe was with his wife as she had their baby, and you might have forgiven him for taking a day off.
Speaking in a post-match interview aired on talkSPORT radio, Mikel Arteta revealed that it was Pepe’s decision to play instead.
“Pepe, he had a baby last night,” Arteta explained. “And at 2/3am he texted me and said ‘I want to come and help the team’.
“So these things happen and it’s not a coincidence, it’s because [of] the togetherness and the unities in there (the squad).”
Writing on Instagram after the game, Pepe said the goal was “in honor of my son”. It’s certainly not a day he’s going to forget in a hurry.
Thursday’s 19-minute substitute appearance was the longest Pepe had spent on the pitch for a Premier League fixture since October 18th.
Arteta suggested after the game that the Ivory Coast international is acting like a different player now.
“I told you last week, I see a different Nico,” he said. “I don’t know, it’s his energy, his happiness, his all-round play, how he’s training, I was convinced that he could come in and do something for the team.”
Pepe will hope he’s made a case for himself for further opportunities in the final few months of the season.