Arsenal have finally moved on club-record signing Nicolas Pepe but Mikel Arteta admits he may not be able to sign a replacement this summer.
Pepe’s largely unremarkable three-year spell in north London came to an underwhelming end as he joined Nice on a season-long loan earlier this week. The Ivory Coast winger joined Arsenal from Lille for £72million in the summer of 2019 and played a role in Arteta landing the FA Cup at the end of his first season at the helm.
But he was already becoming a bit-part player by that stage and last year his last Premier League start came in October.
“I think Nico tried to deal with that the best possible way,” Arteta replied when asked if Pepe’s record fee had been a millstone around his neck.
“Obviously he’s not responsible for the price that a club pays for him. He tried everything, his attitude and the way he is is just phenomenal.
“You just have to meet the person and you will love him for the way he is. In terms of the decision we have to make on the pitch and what we have to select, we have made other decisions and obviously that has had an impact in terms of the chances he’s had to show his quality.”
Pepe’s move does not contain an option to buy so he could return to the Emirates Stadium next summer, although Arsenal have been linked with a number of players with a similar profile.
But, while the likes of Pedro Neto and Yeremy Pino have been targeted, Arteta admits Pepe may not be replaced.
“If we can implement the plan that we have, we will try to do that,” he said.
“In the plan, that (Pepe’s loan move) was something that could happen – now it’s a reality and we’ve been preparing the last two months in order to achieve what we want. Whether that’s possible or not, we will see.
“We’ve done it in different ways. At the start of the window, we signed players before getting other players out. Now we’ve done something different.
“We’ve let a player go and will maybe be able to recruit somebody. But it’s not a guarantee because the player is still not here. What I guarantee is the day that window closes, for me this is the best team in the world and I will try to get the best out of them.”
The rare occasions where Pepe looked like a player who could make the grade at Arsenal largely came in the consecutive Europa League campaigns between 2019 and 2021.
Arteta’s side are back in that same competition after a year away from European football – but the elite level of the Champions League remains the Spaniard’s ambitions.
“We could have been there,” he replied when asked if he regretted Arsenal not being in Thursday’s Champions League draw, instead watching them draw PSV Eindhoven, Bodo/Glimt and FC Zuerich in the Europa League.
“Maybe in another year with the same level of performance that we had we should be there… but we weren’t there so we need to learn the lessons, understand why we weren’t there, what is the level required, go to the next step and try again.”