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Nicolas Pepe – the worst transfer in Arsenal’s history?



( Former Arsenal winger Nicolas Pepe )

Nicolas Pepe has left Arsenal on a free transfer to Trabzonspor – the Gunners received no decent offers for the Ivorian winger and terminated his contract.

Chain of events:

  • Arsenal considered terminating as early as June – the club wasn’t confident they’d find a buyer.
  • The first rumours emerged only in August – about an unnamed club from Saudi Arabia.
  • In Turkey, there was more persistent interest – Beşiktaş pursued him for an entire month, but Pepe ultimately joined Trabzonspor on a one-year deal.

In 2019, Arsenal paid Lille £72 million (€80 million) for Pepe – this transfer remains in the top 50 most expensive of all time and was a club record at the time. Four years later, it’s clear: this was a failed deal.

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Pepe struggled to adapt in England, although he had his moments

Nicolas moved to London right after a breakthrough 2018/19 season with Lille: 23 goals and 12 assists in all competitions. In Ligue 1’s top scorer race, he was just behind Kylian Mbappe.

“Nicolas is a well-known and talented winger, desired by many top European clubs,” Arsenal’s then-manager Unai Emery commented happily. “Acquiring a top-class winger was one of our main goals this transfer window, and I’m delighted he’s joined us. He will add speed, power, and creativity, aiming to increase our team’s goal tally.”

In his first season, Pepe scored eight goals and provided 10 assists. However, he mixed standout performances – like against Vitoria Guimaraes (two free-kick goals), Newcastle (a goal and two assists), and West Ham (a goal and an assist) – with underwhelming displays. Arsenal believed in the Ivorian’s progress, attributing the inconsistency to prolonged adaptation.

The 2020/21 season was even more productive for Pepe – 16 goals and five assists. Nicolas was a regular under Mikel Arteta, who was just beginning to find his feet at the club, and the winger clocked almost three thousand minutes. In late May, he scored five goals in five matches (against West Bromwich, Crystal Palace, and Brighton) and was nominated for the Premier League Player of the Month award.

“Arsenal” discovered that Pepe could have been purchased for much less. After this, they laid off 55 employees, and Nicolas was benched

The cost of Pepe weighed heavily on the London club.

In 2020, ESPN reported that “Arsenal” had launched an internal investigation into the circumstances of the transfer – the club suspected they had drastically overpaid. They sought both the cause and those responsible. The Athletic confirmed this information, while the club remained silent.

According to ESPN sources, following the investigation and a general examination of spending on players, the club’s management, in a cost-cutting move, laid off 55 employees, including key scouts.

The layoffs were signed off by Sporting Director Raul Sanllehi, but a week and a half later, the club unexpectedly announced his departure – the day after ESPN’s publication about the internal investigation.

“Arsenal” justified the departure of the top manager, who came from “Barcelona” in November 2017, as a cost-optimization measure. But it’s unlikely that this was the only reason, or even the primary one. The Athletic reported that the main cause was the 53-year-old Spaniard’s approach to transfers.

It was specified that as a result of the investigation, Raul had overpaid by 5 million for Lucas Torreira (£26 million) and Bernd Leno (£22.5 million).

But the main grievance against the Spaniard was about Pepe. The Guardian, citing contacts in other clubs, claimed that “Arsenal” paid “Lille” 50% more than the market was offering. The Athletic reported roughly the same but with different timing: a year before the transfer, Pepe was available for half of the £72 million. ESPN added that representatives of other clubs involved in talks with “Lille” were astounded by the amount “Arsenal” paid.

After the investigation, Arteta moved Pepe to the bench – but, of course, that wasn’t the only reason. Bukayo Saka’s star was rising. The academy graduate was trusted more and more, leaving less room for the Ivorian.

In the 2021/22 season, Nicolas played fewer than a thousand minutes in all tournaments and in the summer of 2022 was loaned to “Nice” – even though “Sevilla” offered 18 million euros for a full transfer. His new stint in France was not as successful, hampered by a knee injury that kept him out for half the season – but he still scored eight goals.

When Pepe moved to “Arsenal”, Transfermarkt valued him at 75 million euros. Over four years, his market value plummeted by four times – down to 18 million. “Arsenal”, without Pepe in the lineup, had one of the best seasons in recent years – they fiercely competed with “City” for the championship and finally made it to the Champions League.

Clearly, Nicolas was vastly overestimated at the time.

Hello there, Am Mumbere Ausbel from Uganda and I am a writer at Arsenal True Fans and I love watching football matches so much because it's my favourite sport. I am an optimistic person who usually likes to look at the good side of everything.

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