Lille owner Gerard Lopez has insisted Arsenal did NOT overpay for record-signing Nicolas Pepe.
In fact, he says the Gunners ‘got one hell for a deal’ to sign the winger for £72million, as at least one other club offered MORE for the Ivorian!
The Ligue 1 club chief also suggested he blames Unai Emery for the winger’s slow start at the Emirates Stadium, and insisted there’s a lot more to come from the Ivory Coast international.
Pepe became Arsenal’s most expensive signing in their history last summer when he arrived from Lille in a deal that raised plenty of eyebrows.
The 25-year-old joined the Gunners on the back of a remarkable season for the Ligue 1 club, scoring 23 goals and providing 12 assists in 41 games, but struggled to make the same impact in his Premier League debut – although he did look much brighter towards the end of the campaign as he helped the Gunners win the FA Cup.
It has been claimed that the signing of Pepe may have resulted in Raul Sanllehi’s departure as the club’s Head of Football over the past few days.
Some disappointed Gunners fans have suggested Lille got one hell of a deal to get £72m from their club for the Ivory Coast winger.
But, speaking to talkSPORT, Lopez insisted it’s the other way around.
“No, Arsenal did one hell of a deal,” he told talkSPORT host Jim White. “They got a player that other people wanted and they got a player whom one club were offering more money for.
“It was Pepe’s management team that asked us to go to Arsenal and so we accepted slightly less money than we would have got somewhere else.
“Some people know that, I know publicly some agents have said that but something that needs to go on record – we didn’t sell him to the highest bidder.”
The Lille chief also threw shade at former Arsenal manager Unai Emery, suggesting the Spaniard’s tactics did Pepe no favours and the winger started to produce his best once Mikel Arteta took over.
And he also insisted Pepe’s best is yet to come in an Arsenal shirt, saying he will be ‘key to them finishing higher up the table’.
“The second thing that is important is that talent is always there and you can’t take it away from people,” Lopez added.
“He’s a young player and a player that functions on people believing in him. Giving him opportunities but also responsibilities.
“I’m not going to question tactically how he was played for half a season. What I’m going to say is that, in his case, the best is yet to come.
“When he came to us, the six or seven first months were not even average. You could see glimpses of talent. He suddenly got into his stride in the second half of the season and he really came into it in the second season.
“I have no doubt that he can do the same thing. I watched him play in the cup game, for example. Yes his goal was not given but it was one of the top goals he can make.
“I watched him throughout the season, every time he gets the ball something happens. He’s very tough to stop, especially when he’s in the last 30 or 40 metres. You either have to foul him or he’s going to make a pass or create a goal opportunity. That kind of talent is very rare. Players who on their own can dismantle or make something happen.
“I wasn’t kidding when I said Arsenal got a good deal. Other people were willing to pay more and if he delivers, he can deliver, he can be a player who will be key to them finishing higher up the table.”