Pepe became Arsenal’s club-record signing and the expectations from him were sky-high from the beginning. The Ivorian came into the club showing great promise.
His numbers with Lille were outstanding, as he scored 37 goals in 80 appearances for the French club. He looked exactly like the type of player Arsenal needed. Having now completed two years with the Gunners, it’s fair to say the transfer has not reaped the rewards that were initially expected.
Although the expectations from Pepe were admittedly lofty right from the start, it was expected that he would at least become a starter for the Gunners. Two years later, he still faces stiff competition from English youngster Bukayo Saka, who is often preferred to the Ivorian.
His output for Arsenal has been underwhelming overall. In 95 appearances for the club, he has scored 25 goals and provided 17 assists. Although Pepe did star in some crucial games in the UEFA Europa League, Arsenal were certainly looking for higher output for that price.
Let’s take a look at five players who Arsenal could’ve signed instead of Nicolas Pepe.
#1. Jeremy Doku – Rennes
Jeremy Doku has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame over the past couple of years.
Starting his career with Anderlecht in Belgium, the youngster grabbed a lot of attention with his mature displays at a very young age. Capable of occupying either wing, Doku is known for his direct play and outstanding dribbling.
It must, however, be said that Doku made his debut only in 2018. When Pepe was signed by Arsenal in 2019, the Belgian had only one year of top-flight experience under his belt. The club’s decision not to consider Doku made sense at the time, but there could have been a lot to gain by waiting a year.
The 19-year-old moved to Rennes in France last year, replacing Raphinha who moved to Leeds United in the same window. The youngster has been impressive since, even earning a call-up to the Belgian national team in 2020.
Still at the very beginning of his career, Doku certainly has a bright future ahead of him.
#2.David Neres – Ajax
David Neres has developed into one of Ajax’s most important players.
The Brazilian signed with the Amsterdam outfit in 2017 and has improved significantly over the past four years. His best skills include his dribbling and his excellent use of space.
His movement off the ball and his effectiveness in the box have made Neres a standout performer. Neres is equally capable of dribbling on the wings as well as cutting in to shoot, making him a tricky customer overall.
With his contract running out next year, Ajax will have their task cut out for them if they want to extend the Brazilian’s contract.
#3. Leon Bailey – Aston Villa
Leon Bailey joined Bayer Leverkusen in 2017 and went on to establish himself as one of the best young wingers in the world.
Bailey took the Bundesliga by storm, becoming one of the most important players in the Leverkusen side. He scored 39 goals in 156 appearances for the German club. Capable of playing on either wing, he quickly earned the appreciation of the footballing world.
#4. Raphinha – Leeds United
One player who has emerged as a sensation in the Premier League is Leeds United’s Raphinha.
The Brazilian has seen some serious growth in his career over the past few years. Starting out initially with Vitoria Guimaraes in 2016, Raphinha spent the following two years with two different clubs. He joined Sporting CP in 2018 and then moved to Rennes in 2019.
During his time across these clubs, Raphinha has been seriously impressive. He is highly renowned for his excellent dribbling as well as his accurate shooting abilities.
Since joining Leeds in 2020, Raphinha seems to have hit top form under Marcelo Bielsa. He has taken the league by storm, scoring several excellent goals and attracting the attention of the world’s top clubs.
Leeds are currently into their second season after being promoted to the top-flight. Raphinha has become one of their most important players within just one year. The Brazilian also recorded more goal contributions than Nicolas Pepe last year, despite finishing lower in the table.
Raphinha certainly has that X-factor about him and a lot of clubs are interested in signing the Brazilian.
#5. Wilfried Zaha – Crystal Palace
Wilfried Zaha is one player who has been linked with Arsenal for the good part of two seasons.
Linked with Zaha before signing Pepe, Arsenal seemingly opted for the man from Lille due to his higher attacking output at the time. A couple of factors seem to have been left unconsidered. Zaha is already used to the Premier League and had notched up decent numbers until then.
Zaha is, of course, no stranger to England. Having signed for Crystal Palace in 2015, he now has over six years of Premier League experience under his belt. He has already made over 400 appearances for the club, registering 143 goal contributions in total.