Nicolas Pepe Q&A: How can Arsenal afford Lille winger? And what about Wilfried Zaha?

Arsenal are in advanced talks to sign Nicolas Pepe, but why have they chosen the Lille winger over Wilfried Zaha? And how can they afford him?

It was reported earlier this summer that Arsenal’s budget was around £45m after missing out on qualifying for the Champions League. However, Pepe looks set to cost £72m plus add-ons, while they have also signed Dani Ceballos on loan and William Saliba for £27m, and are hoping to sign Kieran Tierney from Celtic.

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Then there’s Zaha, who Arsenal tried to sign this summer, only to see a £40m bid rejected by Crystal Palace, who value him closer to £80m.

So, what’s really going on? We look at the key questions surrounding Arsenal’s move for Pepe and their transfer budget…

What is Arsenal’s actual budget?

First and foremost, Arsenal look like they might have more money to spend this summer than was reported at the end of the season.

Sky Sports News reporter Kaveh Solhekol gave an insight earlier this month when he said on the Transfer Talk show: “What I have been told is that it suits Arsenal that people think they only have £45m, because when they get into negotiations over a player, the selling club is going to think Arsenal don’t have much money.

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“What I have been told is that this is a bit of a smokescreen… We just have to take it with a pinch of salt that Arsenal only have £45m. They are one of the biggest clubs in the world.”

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This has been backed up with comments from Arsenal’s managing director Vinai Venkatesham.

“The numbers never come from us. We never ever, ever, ever talk about how much money we have to spend because that’s the least helpful thing you can do.

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“Raul’s [transfer chief Raul Sanllehi] job is hard enough, if you go into a negotiation and everyone knows how much money you’ve got, it doesn’t really help. It is true that our funds are more limited after three years in the Europa League, but the budget isn’t £40m.

“We have the budget to make a difference, but as Raul says, this is a particularly tough window and we’re in the middle of it. I sense and understand the frustration, but there is a huge amount of misinformation out there in the market.”

So Arsenal could have signed Zaha?

Maybe…and maybe they still will.

However, the key difference between the potential deals for Pepe and Zaha is that Arsenal are able to pay Lille in instalments to spread the cost over the next few years, rather than paying the £72m as a lump sum this summer.

Palace did not appear to be as open to this.

2:21 Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson says Wilfried Zaha is in talks with chairman Steve Parish over his future

You might remember that Palace rejected a bid from Manchester United for Aaron Wan-Bissaka earlier in the summer worth an initial £35m, with additional payments totalling to £15m. Palace preferred more money up front – and they eventually got it.

It seems Arsenal were not willing to do the same and offer more money up front for Zaha.

Did you know?

Nicolas Pepe was the only player in Europe’s top five leagues to have 100+ shots, win 100+ fouls and complete 100+ take-ons in the league in 2018/19

But is there money left for a defender?

Depending on the exact details of the Pepe move (and assuming it gets completed) then there should be.

Sky Sports News understands the Gunners are increasingly confident a deal for Celtic defender Tierney is edging closer.

This is another move that Arsenal have tried to structure, but they saw their second bid rejected because it included too many add-ons and was dependent on the Gunners qualifying for the Champions League.

2:57 The Transfer Show's Kaveh Solhekol believes Celtic full-back Kieran Tierney would like the opportunity to speak to Arsenal

Have Arsenal played it smart this summer?

Considering the apparent restrictions on their budget, it looks like they might have done.

Arsenal director Josh Kroenke said earlier this summer that the club “have a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget”.

To overcome that, Arsenal have secured a loan move for Ceballos, a deal for Saliba that will see the fee paid next summer, a structured deal for Pepe, and then potentially a £25m move for Tierney.

Add that all up and it may come to around £45m.

But would Arsenal have preferred Zaha to Pepe?

Zaha was believed to be Arsenal’s first choice, but they did not go back to the negotiating table after having a £40m offer rejected earlier this month.

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Pepe has some similar characteristics to Zaha (pace, a willingness to run at defenders and the ability to beat defenders), but Pepe provided far more goals and assists last season. Pepe is also two years younger than Zaha so Arsenal may see more potential in him.

Both players have been deployed as strikers at times at their respective clubs, but Pepe has been at his best playing on the right side of the attack, where he can cut inside onto his left foot. He is a forward-thinking player, who ranked third for dribbles in Ligue 1 last season, and his speed means he is also a huge threat on the break.

Pepe vs Arsenal attackers vs Zaha

Pepe Aubameyang Iwobi Ozil Mkhitaryan Zaha
Goals 22 22 3 5 6 10
Minutes per goal 151 124 657 348 274 304
Assists 11 5 6 2 4 5
Mins per goal involvement 101 101 219 249 164 203
Chances created per 90 mins 1.9 1.1 1.8 2.3 1.6 1.6
Dribbles attempted per 90 mins 5.8 1.9 4.5 1.8 3.1 7.4

Arsenal already have pace in attack with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but adding Pepe would give them even more cutting edge in the final third.

To utilise both Aubameyang and Pepe, Unai Emery may use a 4-2-3-1 formation and play them either side of striker Alexandre Lacazette. That would leave room for Mesut Ozil or Dani Ceballos in the middle and then two more defensive-minded players behind.

Pepe compares favourably to all of Arsenal’s attacking players in terms of stats from last season.

His record of 151 minutes per goal is only bettered by Aubameyang (124) and he created three more assists (11) than any Arsenal player.

Pepe also had more shots per game than any Arsenal player (3.2) and attempted more dribbles, which should be a useful addition to the team as his tally of 5.8 dribbles attempted per game was far superior than any current Arsenal player.

The signing of an attacking player will have some fans crying ‘what about the defence?’, but do Arsenal also need more goals to strengthen their side?

They were the third-highest scorers in the Premier League last season, but relied heavily on Aubameyang and Lacazette for those goals. There were 16 games where neither Aubameyang or Lacazette appeared on the scoresheet in 2018/19 and Arsenal won just four of those matches, and scored 1.19 goals per game as opposed to 2.57 when either or both netted.

Throw Pepe in alongside Aubameyang and Lacazette and that would rival any front three in the Premier League.


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