Arsenal star Pepe pulls out of Ivory Coast squad to work on fitness

Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe has withdrawn from the Ivory Coast squad for the international break to work on his fitness.

Pepe moved to north London for a club-record £72 million ($87m) from Ligue 1 side Lille this summer, and Gunners fans may have been concerned to hear he was pulling out of international duty.

However, Pepe is not injured and instead will stay with the Gunners to get up to speed after a shortened pre-season.

The 24-year-old was in action throughout the summer as he played at the Africa Cup of Nations, and had his pre-season preparations disrupted by weeks of transfer speculation with Arsenal beating a number of clubs to his signature.

Ivory Coast manager Herve Renard will have to do without one of his star men for his side’s friendly games with Benin on Friday and Tunisia on Tuesday.

Pepe will spend the international break at Arsenal’s London Colney training ground, building up his fitness as he hopes to establish himself as a regular in Unai Emery’s side.

After showing flashes of his ability in cameo appearances in the wins over Newcastle and Burnley, Pepe played his first 90 minutes for the club in a 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on August 24.

Last weekend’s 2-2 draw in the north London derby at home to Tottenham saw him line up alongside Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the first time, a spectacle Arsenal fans will be expecting to see more of in the coming months.

Pepe and his team-mates will need to be at full fitness when they return from the international break, with Arsenal facing a packed schedule of six games in three competitions in the space of 19 days.

They face Europa League group games with Eintracht Frankfurt and Standard Liege and a Carabao Cup clash with Nottingham Forest, as well as Premier League encounters with Watford, Aston Villa and Manchester United.

The workload should at least be eased by the return to fitness of some of Arsenal’s key men in the coming weeks.

Full-back duo Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin are expecting to return to full training this month, with fellow defenders Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos also likely to be available for selection in the coming weeks.

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