Nicolas Pepe: From Arsenal's club-record signing to the Premier League's biggest transfer flop

Nicolas Pepe Arsenal Getty Images

Unai Emery gave Nicolas Pepe quite the billing upon his arrival at Arsenal on August 2, 2019, telling reporters: "Nicolas is a highly-rated and talented winger who was wanted by many of the top teams in Europe. Signing a top-class winger has been one of our key objectives in this transfer window and I'm delighted he's joining. He will add pace, power and creativity, with the aim of bringing more goals to our team."

The Spanish manager was alkl smiles on the surface, but deep down, he had serious reservations over whether Pepe was the right man give the Gunners a much-needed spark on the right wing. The former Lille talisman's failure to hit the ground running contributed to Emery's sacking some four months later, and he has since admitted that he was never his first-choice target.

"I favoured someone who knew the league and wouldn’t need to adapt," Emery told The Guardian in May 2022. "[Wilfried] Zaha won games on his own. 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."

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Arsenal wouldn't have had to pay anywhere near the £72 million ($90m) they spent on Pepe to sign Zaha from Crystal Palace at the time, and he was ready for the step up. And they were quickly made to regret going all out for his Ivory Coast team-mate instead.

Pepe's four-year stay in north London ended last week as the Gunners agreed to terminate his contract a year early. They'd given up on the 28-year-old long ago, with Mikel Arteta having also failed to to polish the rough diamond that lit up Ligue 1 with Lille.

Trabzonspor have snapped Pepe up on a free transfer, and he could enjoy a new lease of life in Turkey. But it's safe to say he'll never get another shot at the very highest level after being written off as arguably the biggest flop in Premier League history.