Raul Sanllehi’s role in Arsenal’s £72m Nicolas Pepe gamble and Wilfried Zaha decision

Nicolas Pepe has had a difficult start at Arsenal. Courtesy photo.

Arsenal’s decision to sign Nicolas Pepe ahead of Wilfried Zaha continues to be heavily scrutinised.

In the summer of 2019, the Gunners were heavily linked with a move for the Crystal Palace winger, but ended up gambling on his Ivory Coast teammate for a club-record £72m instead.

It was a bold transfer decision that former head coach Unai Emery has since claimed was made by then head of football Raul Sanllehi and current technical director Edu.

In fact, the Spaniard revealed that his preference was to sign Zaha instead of Pepe, but was overruled because the latter was seen as the future of Arsenal.

“We signed [Nicolas] Pepe. 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,” Emery told the Guardian earlier in the year.

“[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 Pepe 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.

“There were a series of decisions that had repercussions.”

Over a year has passed since the transfer decision and Pepe is yet to justify the faith placed in him by Sanllehi and Edu.

There have been glimpses of his quality, but inconsistent performances meant he wasn’t able to nail down a regular place under Emery and not much has changed following the appointment of Mikel Arteta as manager/head coach

Pepe was given a rare start in the Premier League at the weekend against Leeds United, although he failed to grab the opportunity with both hands as he was sent off for violent conduct after being adjudged to have headbutted Ezgjan Alioski.

As a result, he will miss the next three league games and may face a fight to save his Arsenal career under Arteta.

Meanwhile, Zaha has made a fine start to the season with Crystal Palace with five goals and two assists in eight appearances so far, thus adding to fuel to the argument that the Gunners should have signed him instead.

By football.london

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