unai emery arsenal

Emery rues Arsenal's 'mistakes', and the decision to sign Pepe over Zaha

Unai Emery has admitted that ‘mistakes were made’ during his tenure as Arsenal manager, while also discussing why he ‘favoured’ a move for Wilfried Zaha over Nicolas Pepe.

Arsenal fans were full of excitement upon Emery’s appointment as the successor to Arsene Wenger back in 2018, though excitement quickly turned to frustration, with very little seeming to change under the new management.

The Spaniard guided Gunners to a fifth-place finish, as well as to the Europa League final, though defeat in Baku to an Eden Hazard inspired Chelsea saw the north London side miss out on Champions League football for a third successive season.

Emery was eventually relieved of his duties at the Emirates back in November, the club languishing down in eighth after winning just four of their opening 13 Premier League games, and the former PSG boss has opened up on the ‘mistakes’ that were made by the club, admitting his side lacked leadership within the dressing room following a number of departures.

“People were happy but something was missing,” Emery told the Guardian. “I told the people running the club. And then there were decisions that didn’t go well.

“Mistakes were made, and as coach I take responsibility for mine. For example, all four captains left. Ramsey had decided he was going. It would have been better for the team if he had continued, and for me. Petr Cech was retiring; fine. But I wanted Laurent Koscielny to stay, Nacho Monreal to stay. All those leaders went, which makes the dressing room something else.”

Arsenal’s £72 million capture of Nicolas Pepe from Lille was one of the statement signings of last summer following his impressive campaign in Ligue 1 last season, though the Ivory Coast international has so far failed to replicate that form in English football – scoring four and providing six assists in 24 league outings.

His signing came off the back of a lengthy and public pursuit of Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, and Emery opened up on why his preference was to sign Pepe’s international teammate.

“We signed [Nicolas] Pépé. He’s a good player but we didn’t know his character and he needs time, patience,” Emery continued. “I favoured someone who knew the league and wouldn’t need to adapt. [Wilfried] Zaha won games on his own: Tottenham, Manchester City, us. Incredible performances.

“I told them: ‘This is the player I know and want.’ I met Zaha and he wanted to come. The club decided Pépé was one for the future. I said: ‘Yes, but we need to win now and this lad wins games.’ He beat us on his own.

“It’s also true he was expensive and Palace didn’t want to sell. There were a series of decisions that had repercussions.”

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See also – Remembering Thierry Henry’s incredible season in 2002/03

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