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 £72 million ($95m), 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.
The victory lifted Arsenal to ninth place – two points off Manchester United in fifth – and left West Ham struggling in 16th.
Their next assignment comes on Thursday when they travel to Belgium for a Europa League encounter against Standard Liege. The managerless outfit need only a point to ensure qualification in that tournament.