Mikel Arteta reacts to Willian and Pepe performances in Arsenal's FA Cup defeat

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has refused to criticise misfiring attackers Nicolas Pepe and Willian after the duo were ineffective once again in the Gunners’ FA Cup defeat to Southampton.

The holders gave a meek defence of their title as they lost 1-0 at St Mary’s on Saturday, with Kyle Walker-Peters’ first-half cross deflecting in via Gabriel for the game’s only goal.

Arsenal were second best throughout the first 45 minutes and only improved a little after the restart, managing just two shots on target in a largely lacklustre and lethargic display.

Willian, one of the club’s highest earners, and record signing Pepe were both singled out by fans for failing to influence the match, though Arteta feels they both tried their best and he will continue to support them.

Asked about their performances at his post-match press conference, Arteta said: ‘They try to give their best.

‘The intention and willingness is there and after the decision making, the final pass is the end product and that’s the hardest thing in football.

‘We’re going to keep supporting them as much as we can.’

Asked if fans are right to feel they deserve more from the pair, Arteta continued: ‘Well, I don’t know. They’re entitled to ask for anything.

‘What I’m saying is that they tried to give their best. You could see how hard they tried.

‘Sometimes with more or less quality but the intention is there and the willingness is there and this is what we demanded them to do.’

On whether Willian and Pepe can turn their form around, Arteta added: ‘Well, I hope so and we’re going to keep supporting them as much as we can as a coaching staff and as a club because that’s what they need.

‘They need to keep working harder and try and improve their performances.’

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