UNAI EMERY is preparing to unleash record signing Nicolas Pepe on Liverpool as he fights fire with fire.
The £72million winger is in line to make his first Arsenal start at Anfield after being eased through the opening two games of the season.
3 Unai Emery is set to give Nicolas Pepe a starting spot as Arsenal take on Liverpool at AnfieldCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Manager Emery is relishing the chance to put an end to Liverpool’s 11-match winning run in the Premier League tomorrow — and replace the Reds at the top of the table.
Pepe, 24, electrified Arsenal supporters last Saturday when he came on as a half-time substitute against Burnley and destroyed defender Ben Mee with an outrageous nutmeg.
But Emery knows there is plenty more to come from the Ivorian international, who is finding his feet since his summer move from Lille.
Emery said: “He didn’t do pre-season with us but he is progressively feeling better and his individual performances are improving.
“For example in the first match, he played 15 minutes at Newcastle, then he played 45 minutes against Burnley. For Saturday, he is ready to have more minutes again.
“Pepe’s progress has been positive. The most important piece of his adaptation is to help him to feel easy and to be comfortable with the rest of the team.”
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The 2-1 win against Burnley was the first time that Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette had played together up front, even if it was for just 25 minutes.
That attacking trio has cost Arsenal a cool £184m — so it is hardly surprising much is expected of this Pepe, Auba and Laca PALs act.
And Emery is now intrigued to see how his trio matches up to Liverpool’s dynamic front three of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
The last time Arsenal went to Anfield they lost 5-1, their heaviest defeat under Emery.
But only four of that side — Aubameyang, Bernd Leno, Sokratis and Ainsley Maitland-Niles — are likely to start tomorrow.
And Emery insists this is a huge opportunity for his players to set the record straight against the only other Premier League team to win their opening two fixtures.
He added: “We are in good spirits and ready to play with big ambition. The motivation is very big for us and it is a good test to show our capacity and to play in the way we want.
“To go to Liverpool with the possibility to achieve first position is amazing.”
Shkodran Mustafi was taken off at half-time during that 5-1 Anfield rout in December.
Emery has made it crystal clear to the £34.85m German defender that he needs to find himself a new club before the European transfer window closes on September 2.
Emery added: “We now have some players such as Mustafi and Mohamed Elneny who know their situation.
“Last year, they weren’t happy when they didn’t play. I have spoken with them lots of times — and I think it’s positive for them to leave.”
Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil have both returned to full training this week.
3 Emery has used Pepe sensibly so far after the Ivorian missed pre-season with the GunnersCredit: Reuters
3 Arsenal supporters will be hoping the £72m winger can link up effectively with fellow forwards Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre LacazetteCredit: EPA