Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has produced a scathing assessment of Nicolas Pepe’s red card incident when he appeared to headbutt Leeds United’s Gjanni Alioski early in the second half.
Leeds welcomed Arsenal to Elland Road in a Premier League fixture for the first time since the 2003/04 Invincibles season for the Gunners, coincidentally the same season Leeds were condemned to 16 years out of the top flight with relegation.
Having watched the game, you wouldn’t have pointed to Leeds as the side that had been exiled from the top flight for so long, dominating the game from start to finish and coming away bitterly disappointed not to win.
Despite ending 0-0, the game wasn’t short of action and flashpoints.
Arsenal’s record signing Nicolas Pepe was the man-marking task of Gjanni Alioski and the North Macedonian gave Pepe little to no room to strut his stuff in the first half, leading to the Ivorian cutting an increasingly frustrated figure at Elland Road.
As the second half got underway, Alioski’s relentless pressure didn’t let up and the Gunners winger took exception to it, coming to blows with him briefly in his own half. Shortly after, the two clashed again near the Leeds penalty area, resulting in Pepe headbutting Alioski and the latter collapsing to the floor.
Not initially picked up by referee Anthony Taylor, he consulted the Referee Review Area and had no hesitation to whip out the red card and give Pepe his marching orders.
It confirmed Leeds’ dominance in the game for the rest of the 90 minutes but the hosts couldn’t take their chances and were left with just a point.
After the game, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was pulling no punches about Pepe’s outburst and when speaking to the media, he was clear in his assessment of the incident. He said (via Sky Sports): “Considering how early we got Pepe sent off we have to take it. I never like a draw but in the circumstances, it’s a point. It is unacceptable.
“The first half there were two different periods. The game broke a bit, we started to give the ball away and led to them having the space to break. The second half it was a matter of defending well and staying patient and using the pace of our players in the space they were leaving.”
When pressed for a verdict on Pepe’s red card, Arteta simply answered: “Unacceptable.”
The Spaniard has every right to be fuming at Pepe for his actions after he basically ruled out any chance of them getting three points, but relinquishing their share of possession.
Bukayo Saka still had one chance in the second half but the balance of it still should have seen Leeds pull away with the winn very comfortably.
We all know about Alioski’s mischief off the pitch as a cheeky customer but to react to it on the pitch is a different matter and something that you simply can’t do.
Pepe wasn’t exactly having a good game but to stay on and give the Arsenal defence another outlet would have been massive, especially considering Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was left sitting just outside his own box to defend for most of the second half.