Saturday 17 August 2019

Arsenal closing in on winger Pepe for club-record €80m

Arsenal manager Unai Emery. Photo: Bradley Collyer/PA
Arsenal manager Unai Emery. Photo: Bradley Collyer/PA

Sam Dean

Arsenal are edging closer to completing a club-record deal for Nicolas Pepe in a move that will be seen as a major statement of intent ahead for the new Premier League season.

It is understood that Arsenal are still finalising their move for the Lille winger, who will cost them around £72 million (€79million), and remain hopeful of completing the signing soon.

It was a sign of how far talks have progressed that Jose Fonte, the former Southampton and West Ham United defender who now plays for Lille, said yesterday that Arsenal fans "will be in for a treat" with Pepe.

Pepe, who plays predominantly on the right wing, will add more pace and dynamism to an Arsenal attack which is already the club's overwhelming strong point.

Arsenal have long been monitoring Pepe's progress and they stepped up their interest earlier this month despite the weakening of their financial firepower following their failure to qualify for the Champions League for the third consecutive season.

At 24, Pepe is a younger option than Wilfried Zaha, for whom Arsenal made a bid earlier this summer, and it is understood that Lille have proven to be more receptive to a staggered payment structure than Crystal Palace.

Fonte described Pepe as a "very, very accomplished player" who will add a new dimension to an Arsenal attack that has lacked width since the departure of Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United in January last year.

"He is incredible," Fonte said. "If he can reach the same level - which I believe he will - that he did with Lille last season, then Arsenal fans will be very happy.

"He is super quick, he has a left foot which is silky, one v one he is second to none. He finishes really good, he takes penalties, he takes free kicks.

"He is a very, very accomplished player and I think Arsenal fans will be in for a treat, for sure."

Pepe scored 22 league goals for Lille last season, finishing second in the Ligue 1 goalscoring charts behind Paris St-Germain's Kylian Mbappe.

He has made 15 appearances for the Ivory Coast, scoring four goals.

Arsenal have held off stiff competition from some of Europe's leading clubs to take the lead in the race for Pepe, who was also of interest to Napoli.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Napoli manager, insisted at the weekend that he was "not disappointed" by Pepe's decision to pursue a move to the Premier League instead of with the Serie A club. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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