Unai Emery wanted Wilfried Zaha at Arsenal – NOT Nicolas Pepe

Crystal Palace's striker Wilfried Zaha, Arsenal's midfielder Nicolas Pepe (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
Crystal Palace's striker Wilfried Zaha, Arsenal's midfielder Nicolas Pepe (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images) /

Arsenal broke their transfer record for Nicolas Pepe last summer, but former manager Unai Emery claims that the former Lille winger wasn’t his first choice.

Unai Emery can’t seem to stop talking about Arsenal following his sacking, and it certainly isn’t going down well with their fans. His tendency to point fingers at his former players and bosses and never at himself seems to fit perfectly with the suggestions that his personality and man-management was flat-out toxic.

In a recent interview with the Daily Mail, Emery continued to double down on some of his previous criticisms of the Arsenal board and his players, but one little tidbit from the interview stood out.

In this interview, Emery claimed that Nicolas Pepe was not his first choice to bolster Arsenal’s attack, due to the fact that he would need an adjustment period – which was true, based on his inconsistency this season. Instead, the Spaniard wanted to sign a different Ivorian winger – Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha.

While Arsenal fans might not be happy with this, since Pepe was a bigger name last summer and had a bit more glamour to him since he wasn’t playing for a bottom-half Premier League club, Unai Emery does have a point here.

Wilfried Zaha was superb for Crystal Palace last season, and against Unai Emery’s Arsenal in particular, he single-handedly drove Roy Hodgson’s team forward. Zaha’s technical skill matched with his immense physical presence (which is far greater than that of Pepe’s), makes him a very attractive player for big clubs. He can also play both on the counter-attack and in sustained possession.

The biggest factor was the fact that he wouldn’t have needed an adjustment period. Sure, going from Crystal Palace to Arsenal is a big difference in terms of playing style, but Zaha would not need any time to adjust to the opponents.

Zaha’s production has decreased this season, however, going from 10 goals and 10 assists in 34 matches last year to just 3 goals and 5 assists in 29 matches this year. He seems to have lost the spark, which might be recovered if he moves to a bigger club – one that matches his skill set a bit more.

While the adjustment period is a big factor, it’s quite easy to say that Nicolas Pepe has a much higher ceiling than Wilfried Zaha. Listening to someone like Unai Emery, who played Lucas Torreira as an attacking midfielder, might not be the most prudent thing to do in this situation. Instead, Arsenal should embrace the fact that they have such a skilled winger who is capable of scoring in bunches once he gets going. Pepe is also a few years younger than Zaha.

Next. Expect Nicolas Pepe to have a breakout 2020-21. dark

Next season, when Nicolas Pepe has fully adjusted to the Premier League and the style of play, he could very realistically hit 20 or even 25 goal contributions. His talent is unquestionable.