Nicolas Pepe has long been on Arsenal’s radar but it seems the Gunners’ chance to snare the free-scoring Ivorian has already passed.
The Lille forward’s record of 17 goals and eight assists in 29 Ligue 1 games this season would never have gone unnoticed and he is now reported to be the subject of a £69million offer from Bayern Munich for his services. That is the sort of money with which Arsenal simply cannot compete, despite Ivan Gazidis’ promises to the contrary six years ago.
For Arsenal, seeing Pepe go to Bayern Munich would be a frustrating sight. Former head of recruitment Sven Mislintat had long been a fan of the 23-year-old, even prior to last summer when Arsenal opted to spend their money elsewhere.
At that stage Pepe was already showing what he could do – he had scored on 13 occasions in his first season with Lille – but had not yet become so widely coveted in Europe. The moment that happens it becomes increasingly difficult for Arsenal to seriously compete for the time being.
Now, even if Arsenal qualify for the Champions League and find additional money for summer spending, a move for Pepe would necessitate spending most if not all of their transfer budget on one player. With Unai Emery keen to improve his defence that simply isn’t an option.
In short, Arsenal cannot wait for a player to be thrust into the European limelight before they make their move. That, of course, was the point of hiring Mislintat in the first place and will be the key challenge for whoever eventually succeeds him as technical director.
Arsenal have proven that they can find and hone the stars of the future themselves – Matteo Guendouzi is emerging as one of Europe’s most promising central midfielders this season – so there seems little reason to wait for someone else to do that task and then pay a premium that runs into the tens of millions.
Perhaps that explains why Arsenal’s search for wide reinforcements this summer is increasingly taking them away from the traditional haunts of European giants. Cristian Pavon would be attainable from Boca Juniors at a cheaper price than he would from most European clubs and is firmly admired by head of football Raul Sanllehi.
Similarly if Arsenal choose to firm up their interest in Genk forward Leandro Trossard, first revealed by football.london last month, then they will not have to pay the same outlandish sum that it appears would be required for Pepe.
Inevitably these bargain additions come with their own risks. For if there will always be questions over whether an important from Ligue 1 can thrive in the more competitive Premier League than they will only be heightened if Arsenal do their shopping in Belgium and Argentina.
But that is the simple reality of the modern market – Arsenal for the time being do not have the muscle to get into bidding wars with the sides that they aspire to compete with on the pitch. If their off-field activities are to be a success Arsenal must be imaginative in where they look and decisive when they find a target with promise, even if he is not necessarily the finished article.
Otherwise it may well be that the next Pepe passes Arsenal by just as this one seems likely to.