Arsenal have confirmed that winger Nicolas Pépé has joined Ligue 1 side OGC Nice on loan for the remainder of the season. Arsenal will cover a portion of his wage – there is no purchase option included in the deal.
Arsenal have been keen for the Ivorian winger to leave for some time now, the inclusion of a purchase option has been done with the hope of enticing the Ligue 1 side into making the move permanent and to move Pépé and his reported £140,000-a-week salary off the books.
The Ivorian was also of interest to Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City too, who were willing to cover the entirety of his salary, something Arsenal were very keen on, however, Pépé opted for a return to France, becoming the second player in the space of a year to join Nice on loan, following William Saliba’s loan in January of 2021.
Pépé joined Arsenal from OSC Lille in 2019 for a club-record fee of £72m. Pépé was a hugely unexpected signing that summer, with Arsenal’s reported transfer budget limited to £45m.
The player had been closely watched by the likes of Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Manchester City, however, they balked at the player’s asking price. Arsenal acted swiftly to conclude a deal, especially amidst rumours that Pépé was to be joining Serie A side Napoli. Then-Director of Football Raul Sanllehí used his connections with Lille to strike a deal and the winger joined Unai Emery’s side.
While Arsenal fans rejoiced in the signing, the same could not be said of Emery. Emery had specifically request Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, however, Arsenal were not keen to stump up the cash for the player.
While Palace demanded a similar fee to that of Pépé, they required more money up front and a shorter instalment plan, something Arsenal were not keen to agree to.
Pépé was largely uninspiring in his first season with the club. This was to be expected as Arsenal’s form nose-dived in and out of the league. Emery did not fully trust Pépé to take over the right-flank and was more inclined to use Pépé in UEFA Europa League matches, rather than in the Premier League.
When Emery left, Pépé was given new life under Mikel Arteta and Freddie Ljungberg.
After starting in the club’s historic 14th FA Cup final win, he went on to have a far greater impact on the team the following season. While Bukayo Saka was initially deployed on the left-hand side, Pépé took up residence on the right.
However, a drop-off in form towards the end of the season, meant that Pépé was reduced to a bench role, while Saka took over on the right.
Last season, Pépé was barely featured at all, only making 20 appearances for the team in the league, of which the majority were from the bench.
Though Pépé found some luck in the League Cup, it was a hugely disappointing return for the club-record signing and he was unable to force himself into Mikel Arteta’s plans further.
Arsenal have been looking into finding potential cover and competition for Saka this summer. Given his proficiency with his left-foot, Pépé would seem an obvious candidate for the role, however, the club seem to have lost any and all confidence in Pépé’s ability to change the game for the better.
A move for Leeds winger Raphina proved unsuccessful as the Brazilian swapped West Yorkshire for Catalonia in a £55m move. Other targets have been rumoured to be the likes of PSV’s Cody Gakpo, Villarreal’s Yéremy Pino and Wolves’ Pedro Neto.
This season is a chance for Pépé to regain his confidence in a league that he lit up in his time there. A series of good performances may allow him to leave permanently, but for now, Pépé leaves the club (albeit temporarily) with a point to prove.