Nicolas Pepe reminds Arsenal of transfer failures ahead of crucial summer

Nicolas Pepe is keen to leave Arsenal this summer, three years after the club-record £72million that took the Ivory Coast winger from Lille to north London

Arsenal Director of Football Edu poses with new signing Nicolas Pepe
Arsenal were very excited to sign Nicolas Pepe in 2019

When Arsenal signed Nicolas Pepe from Lille in 2019, they were pretty happy with themselves.

Pepe was one of the most exciting players on the market in Europe three years ago, having contributed 23 goals and 12 assists in 41 Ligue 1 games for Lille last season. Barcelona and Napoli were interested in his services but the Gunners were determined to get their man after sacking Wilfried Zaha on Crystal Palace’s £100m valuation.

The wheels were set in motion and because of the money at stake, technical director Edu and former football boss Raul Sanllehi kept the owners updated throughout the club’s pre-season tour of the United States. After the rivals were fended off, Arsenal and Lille officials spent two days working out the details of the deal.

The end result was the now infamous £72million transfer fee and a five-year deal worth £140,000 a week. Napoli reportedly offered £85m for Pepe but the Ivory Coast international was keen to join Arsenal. The Gunners had spent £58million on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang the previous year but the deal was nonetheless a milestone for the club.

Three years later, in the middle announces that Pepe wants to leave, it seems like a gamble that didn’t pay off. Pepe has 27 goals and 20 assists in 111 games for Arsenal, which is far from a disaster, but his recent performances off the bench show a player lacking in confidence.

His current condition – and Arsenal’s attitude of happily accepting an offer of around £25million – shows how wrong things have gone. Back in October 2020 reported that there was “widespread agreement” within the Arsenal hierarchy that Pepe was “by far the best option” given his age and potential to increase his market value in the years to come.

That didn’t happen and the Gunners are rightly trying to cut their losses. Marseille and Lyon have been tentatively linked with the 26-year-old potentially being offered a Ligue 1 return.

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Nicolas Pepe wants to leave Arsenal this summer


Stuart MacFarlane/Getty Images)

When that happens, Arsenal should use the saga as an example of what can go wrong in the high-stakes game of transfers. You can’t afford to worry about that now as another major transfer window looms on the horizon.

Arsenal spent over £150m to sign six players last summer and need a similar recruitment campaign this time. With the departure of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the departure of Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah, strikers are a clear priority. Meanwhile, a new central midfielder, centre-back and full-back are on the cards.

Mikel Arteta’s side have been linked with almost every available player in Europe in recent weeks but at the moment, Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus and Leicester’s Youri Tielemans seem the likeliest signings. Sunday’s results will have a major impact on Arsenal’s appeal, with Champions League qualification a key factor in players’ thinking.

Arsenal will likely need to attract players with the lure of the Europa League, meaning the top-flight talent could prove unavailable. But with Pepe’s £72m lesson still fresh in his mind, that might not prove to be an entirely negative thing.

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