NICOLAS PEPE is 'hurting and suffering' amid Arsenal's horror run of form, but boss Mikel Arteta has vowed to stand by the Ivorian.

The Gunners are without a win in eight games domestically, following last night's 4-1 Carabao Cup defeat to Manchester City.

Pepe, 25, replaced Gabriel Martinelli in the 49th minute of the match, but struggled to match the Brazilian's impact on proceedings.

The Ivorian was previously criticised for his red card against Leeds United last month, but did get on the scoresheet from the penalty spot against Everton at the weekend.

While Pepe is yet to find his best form since joining for £72million last year, Arteta, 38, isn't about to turn on the club's record buy.

He said: "I would always defend my players.

"Whatever I have to discuss with him, it will be internally. Pepe wants to do his best and help as much as he possibly can.

"This is what I am interested in. It is my job and if he doesn't, it is my fault. He is trying his best. We all know Nico and sometimes his body language makes him feel bad.

"He is hurting, he is suffering – believe me, I am close to him – and he is trying his best.

"He feels the responsibility because be knows why the club brought him here and he wants to deliver that."

The Gunners' latest defeat dumped them out of the League Cup at the hands of last year's winners.

And things are going no better in the league, having not won since November 1 against Manchester United.

Arteta's side currently sit 15th in the table, just four points above the relegation zone.

And Gunners stars, including Pepe, would stand to lose 25 per cent of their weekly salaries, should the unthinkable happen and they actually get relegated.

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