'My start has been a bit negative' - Pepe reflects on early Arsenal career

Arsenal forward Nicolas Pepe says the departure of head coach Unai Emery was “painful” while admitting that his start to life in north London has been “negative”.

Much was expected of the Ivory Coast international when he arrived at Emirates Stadium for €80 million (£72m/$89m) from Lille in the summer having scored 23 goals for the French side last season.

However, the 24-year-old has struggled to replicate his goalscoring form in a Gunners shirt, netting just three goals in 17 appearances, none of which have come from open play.

The forward’s indifferent form has been matched by the rest of the squad, with Emery paying the price for slide in form that saw the club go seven games without a win in all competitions.

Pepe admits it was tough to see the Spaniard leave the club given the effort he had made to bring him to north London over the summer.

“It was painful because he is a coach who gave me the chance to come to Arsenal. We mustn’t forget that. For me, it was something painful,” he told RMC Sport.

On his own form, Pepe conceded he has failed to live up to expectations so far.

“I would say that my start has been a bit negative. Based on my own expectations of myself, I expected a bit more. I expect more and it is up to me to work hard and make the difference in each match.

“It is normal for people to criticise me as much as they are doing because I am not making the difference in each match. I understand them. It is certainly up to me to reverse this situation through hard work.

“There are lots of aspects that I need to improve. Score more quickly, take the opportunities to score that I’ve been missing. It’s like that, that’s football. I also need to improve on the physical aspect because coming from France to England, there is this box-to-box aspect that you have to take into account.”

Former Arsenal midfielder Freddie Ljungberg has been named caretaker boss as the Gunners begin the search for a permanent successor to Emery.

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Pepe says the Swede has made a positive impact on the squad during his short time in charge and hopes to impress him enough to force his way back into the side.

“As he was a player, he understands us better. He speaks a lot with us, so for us it is quite simple for us to understand him like for him it is quite easy to understand us,” he said.

“Right now there are some players who are playing others who are not. That’s football, it’s like that. It is the coach who decides. If I am on the bench, it is up to me to put the work in to get back in the starting XI.