Unai Emery has revealed that he would have preferred signing Wilfried Zaha over Nicolas Pepe. It can be recalled that Arsenal smashed their club record in August 2019 to sign Pepe from Ligue 1 outfit Lille in a deal worth £72 million.
Since then, the Ivory Coast international has endured a mixed campaign as he needed time to adapt to life in the Premier League. The 24-year-old had scored 6 goals in 32 games for Arsenal this season before the league was suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Unai Emery was hired as Arsenal boss in May 2018 after Arsene Wenger’s departure. However, he was relieved of his managerial duties in November 2019 after managing for a season-and-a-half at the Emirates.
Emery noted that Pepe’s slow start for Arsenal played a major part in damaging his fortunes as manager of the club. He would have preferred signing a player who had already been thoroughly tested in the Premier League.
“We signed Pepe,” Emery said in a chat with The Guardian “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. 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.”
The Spaniard also pointed out that signing Zaha wouldn’t have been simple as Crystal Palace were determined to keep hold of their prized asset.
“It’s also true he was expensive and Palace didn’t want to sell,” Emery said. “There were a series of decisions that had repercussions.”
He also recollected his final days at Arsenal as his time at the club ended after a run of seven games without a win. According to him, the miserable run resulted in an irrecoverable snowball effect.
“It’s difficult,” Emery said. “The energy slips, things drift; everything does, everyone does. Some support you but you feel the atmosphere, relationships [shift].
“And that transmits to the pitch. Losing leads against Palace and Wolves reflected our emotional state: we weren’t right. It wasn’t working.
“I told the players: ‘I don’t see the team I want.’ That commitment and unity wasn’t there any more. That’s when I see I’m on my own. The club left me alone, and there was no solution.