Unai Emery has revealed that he had the preference of signing Wilfried Zaha ahead of Nicolas Pepe when he was the Arsenal manager. The north London side were heavily linked with Zaha’s signature during the 2019 summer transfer window but ultimately, they opted to sign Nicolas Pepe in a club-record deal from Lille.
Pepe has not been consistent in his debut season in the Premier League but he has still impressed in stages and has bagged four goals and six assists from 24 appearances. Speaking to Goal.com, Emery revealed that Zaha was his preferred target to strengthen the squad, given his vast experience playing in the Premier League. He added that the club went with Pepe with a view to long-term success, the Spaniard told: “We signed [Nicolas] Pépé. He’s a good player but we didn’t know his character and he needs time, patience.
“I favoured someone who knew the league and wouldn’t need to adapt. [Wilfried] Zaha won games on his own: Tottenham, Manchester City, us. Incredible performances. I told them: ‘This is the player I know and want.’ I met Zaha and he wanted to come. The club decided Pépé was one for the future. I said: ‘Yes, but we need to win now and this lad wins games.’ He beat us on his own. It’s also true he was expensive and Palace didn’t want to sell.”
Crystal Palace had demanded £80m for Zaha last summer and they were reluctant to accept anything other than a straight-cash deal. As a result, the Gunners made the decision to focus on recruiting Pepe and they managed to do so through a staggered payment path. The Capital outfit paid an initial £20m for the Ivory Coast international with the remaining £50m to be settled over the next five seasons. Arsenal are currently under the guidance of Mikel Arteta, who succeeded Emery as the head coach in December.