UNAI EMERY declared his faith in Nicolas Pepe as Arsenal’s record signing saved his Europa League bacon.
The £72million man came off the bench to score two late free-kicks to clinch a stoppage-time victory over Vitoria.
Gunners manager Emery said: “Nicolas is a very good player and we believe in him totally.
“Every player needs time to adapt but his two goals were perfect and they gave us the win we deserved to keep us top of our group.
“We are very happy for him and these goals will give him real confidence.”
Emery insisted he knew the Ivorian international was going to score the minute he stepped up to shoot when the home side were losing 2-1.
Pepe, 24, had managed just one penalty in his first two months at the club before last night — but Emery added: “He was trying a lot of set-pieces in training last week and I expected him to shoot.
“I was very positive in that situation because I know what my players can do with set-pieces.
“This is a very important result for us. We used a lot of different players tonight and maybe some of them were more nervous than usual.
“But there were more positive than negative things from this game.”
But former Gunner Robin van Persie is with the fans who were still reeling from Monday’s shock 1-0 loss away at Sheffield United.
The Dutchman said: “I don’t think they are improving. I don’t think Emery really connects with his players.”
Emery refused to explain why Mesut Ozil was once again left out.
The German, 31, has played just 142 minutes of football this season while earning £3.7m in wages — a whopping £26,000 for every MINUTE on the pitch.
But Emery insisted: “This is not the day to speak about that. He’s not in the squad and that was the decision tonight.”
Skipper Hector Bellerin also focused on the present.
He said: “It’s a great result, especially considering the way the game went. We needed to be resilient and to keep believing right to the end.”