In the second half of the match, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) called the attention of the center-referee, Anthony Taylor, to a headbutting offense Nicolas Pepe committed on Leeds United’s winger Ezgjan Alioski off the ball.
After the referee reviewed the incident, he gave Pepe a straight red card in the 51st minute of the match despite how soft the headbutting was. This means that the 25-year-old Ivory Coast international will miss Arsenal’s next three Premier League games against Wolves, Tottenham, and Burnley.
Since the incident happened, Nicolas Pepe and Ezgjan Alioski have been subjected to ridicule on social media. Pepe is being criticized for headbutting the Leeds United’s star, while Alioski is being criticized for being so dramatic about the incident despite being a soft headbutting.
The criticism got so bad that both Leeds United and Arsenal football club had to issue separate press statements to warn the fans of both sides to desist from trolling the players.
Leeds United said: “The vile abuse directed at Ezgjan Alioski and Nicolas Pepe on social media after yesterday’s Premier League game with Arsenal will not be tolerated by Leeds United.
“We will work closely with the police and the footballing authorities to ensure those responsible are identified and punished,” a statement from Leeds read.
While Arsenal added: “We utterly condemn the vile abuse directed at Nicolas Pepe and Ezgjan Alioski on social media following our match against Leeds. This is completely unacceptable and we will be working with the police and authorities to do everything we can to trace and prosecute the culprits.”
On the part of Nicolas Pepe, the winger took to his Instagram account to apologize to the club, the coaches, his teammates, and the fans for headbutting a player in the match which forced Arsenal to play with one man less.
He wrote: “I have let my team down at a crucial time of the game and there are no excuses for my behavior,” said the Ivorian winger.
“I’m deeply sorry and would like to apologize to the fans, my team-mates, my coach, and everyone else at the club.”
Though Leeds United failed to take advantage of the red card situation by winning the match, the coach of the North London club, Mikel Arteta described Pepe’s challenge as “unacceptable” after the goalless draw.
Nicolas Pepe stats at Arsenal and salary
Nicolas Pepe joined Arsenal football club from French Ligue 1 club Lille on August 1, 2019, for Arsenal’s transfer record fee worth £72 million.
The 25-year-old winger reportedly earns £105,000-per-week since he joined Arsenal and he might earn higher before his 5-year deal with the club expires on June 30, 2024.
Since he joined the club in 2019, Nicolas Pepe has played a total of 55 games in all competitions, scoring 11 goals and providing 12 assists.
Since the commencement of this season, the club’s coach, Mikel Arteta has not been too convincing about his efficiency, hence, he always likes to start him from the bench. So far this season, he has featured in 8 league matches and he has scored just a goal.
In total, the Ivory Coast star has played 13 games, scored 3, and provided 2 assists in all competitions for Arsenal. But the red card he received on Sunday after his unnecessary headbutting, has overshadowed his effort to make a mark at the club, at least for now.