Nicolas Pepe confident Gabriel Martinelli will step up for Arsenal and fill Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang void

JAMES OLLEY
AFP via Getty Images

Nicolas Pepe has backed Gabriel Martinelli to fill the void left by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the hunt for a top-four finish intensifies with Arsenal’s visit to Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night.

The Gunners’ hopes of securing Champions League football through domestic competition are hanging by a thread as they sit 10 points adrift of Frank Lampard’s fourth-placed Chelsea.

Aubameyang will miss out this evening as he serves the second game of a three-match ban for his dismissal against Crystal Palace earlier this month and the striker’s absence is a significant blow, given his record this term.

The 30-year-old Gabonese is the club’s top goalscorer with 16 in all ­competitions. Arsenal have scored just 12 League goals away from home all season — with Aubameyang responsible for nine of them — yet Pepe, a club-record £72million summer signing from Lille, insists Martinelli is ready to step up.

The 18-year-old Brazilian scored in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Sheffield United and Pepe said: “Of course, it is a big loss to be without one of the best strikers in the League, but we all have to do our best to make up for that loss. It’s a team game and we can cope without a single player. We have a quality squad and others who can come in, like Martinelli. There are still plenty of goals in the team.”

Martinelli could start against the Blues. (AFP via Getty Images)

Martinelli has impressed to a greater extent than Pepe, despite costing a fraction of the price, at just £7m from Ituano. He was expected to require time to adapt to the pace of the Premier League, but instead has scored nine goals in 20 appearances.

By contrast, Pepe has struggled to find any consistency, although Arteta’s arrival at the Emirates has coincided with an upturn in fortunes for the 24-year-old Ivory Coast winger.

“Things are definitely going better,” said Pepe of his own form. “I am still learning and there is plenty of room for improvement, but in terms of understanding, things are definitely becoming easier.

“Mikel has explained exactly what he would like me to do on the pitch and shown me videos that have stressed the importance of my positioning. He’s told me what he would like me to do to help me progress as a player.”

Arsenal have a doubt over defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who is struggling with illness, while Reiss ­Nelson (hamstring) and Sead Kolasinac (thigh) are unavailable.