Former Arsenal head coach Unai Emery has revealed he wanted to sign Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha over Nicolas Pepe.
Arsenal smashed their club transfer record in August, when they signed Pepe from Lille in a £72 million deal.
Pepe, though, has endured a mixed debut season with Arsenal, taking time to adjust to the Premier League. The 24-year-old scored six goals in 32 games in all competitions for Arsenal in 2019-20 prior to football’s suspension due to the coronavirus crisis.
Emery, who was appointed manager in May 2018 after Arsene Wenger left the Emirates, was sacked in November after a campaign and a half in charge, eventually replaced by Mikel Arteta.
According to Emery, Pepe’s slow start in London damaged his job prospects, with the coach preferring to sign different player who already proved himself in England.
“We signed Pepe,” Emery told The Guardian “He’s a good player but we didn’t know his character and he needs time, patience.
- Ziyech breaks down in tears as Ajax bid him emotional farewell ahead of Chelsea move
- Mark Clattenburg reveals five most annoying players he has ever refereed
“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.”
However, Emery explained that signing Zaha wouldn’t have been so easy, with Palace determined to keep hold of their key player.
“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.”
Emery also talked about the end of his tenure with the club, which ended with a seven-game winless run. And this according to the Spaniard created a snowball effect that he could not recover from.
“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.”