Nicolas Pépé’s emergence into one of Europe’s most expensive players and Arsenal’s record signing was as swift as it may prove defining for his new club. After playing in the lower leagues of French football with Poitiers and Orleans, he showed his improving talent at Angers to attract the attention of Marcelo Bielsa. The then Lille manager shelled out €10m to secure the signing of a player he would deploy, as long as he was at the club, as a striker.
It was after Bielsa’s departure, and working under Christophe Galtier – the coach responsible for transforming Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang into a striker at Saint-Étienne – that Pépé was returned to the wide attacking role in which he excelled throughout the 2018/19 season. That ultimately secured him a move to north London at a time when Arsenal were also reported to be chasing Crystal Palace’s influential Wilfried Zaha.
Only Kylian Mbappé of Paris Saint-Germain scored more Ligue 1 goals during the past season; comparisons have even been made with one of Pepe’s predecessors at Lille, the classy Eden Hazard, who earlier this summer left Chelsea for Real Madrid for €65m.
In joining Arsenal for £72m, Pepe not only becomes the fourth most expensive footballer in England; he also becomes the most expensive African player of all time.