Lille OSC president and owner Gerard Lopez has revealed that Nicolas Pepe chose to join Arsenal in the summer transfer window over a number of other clubs qualified to take part in this season’s Champions League.
Lopez said that the 24 year-old Ivory Coast international traded top-tier European football for the chance to move to the London club – who are playing in the Europa League this year – because he was persuaded by their plan for the future.
Lopez added that Lille had received offers in excess of the €79 million they eventually agreed with Arsenal – including “a very big offer from Spain” – but the player decided that joining ‘The Gunners’ was in his best interest.
“I think in the case of Nicolas Pepe it was a special summer somehow, we had a number of offers and Arsenal’s was the most important of them, however we agreed with Nicolas and his agents that once we get the wanted amount it was up to him to make a sporting choice based on (that),” he said.
“I think he made a sporting choice, really sporting in the sense that he wanted to be at a club where he has a role to play, in the construction or reconstruction of this club.”
Watch Lopez share his full thoughts in the video above.
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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was happy to leave Old Trafford with a point as his equaliser earned Arsenal a 1-1 draw with Manchester United.
Aubameyang cancelled out Scott McTominay’s first-half goal when his cute second-half finish was given by VAR after initially being ruled out for offside.
The original decision was incorrect by some margin, but Aubameyang was happy, telling Sky Sports: “We’ll take it. We were 1-0 down, so we came back.
“The team fought very well and we will take a point. It’s always hard to come here.
“It is not easy when you concede a goal before half-time, it is tough, but we came back in the second half with great spirit.
“Last week we came back well, this week too, maybe we need to start with great strength.”
Discussing the initial ruling out of his goal for offside, Aubameyang added: “I think we took the ball, I got a great pass. I was sure I was not offside, I was surprised the referee whistled, but I tried to finish because I was sure.
“I just heard the crowd say it was offside, but then it was a goal so I was happy.
“It’s a strange feeling (waiting for a VAR review), you cannot celebrate 100 per cent, but it’s OK. I am happy.”
United goalkeeper David De Gea insisted the linesman raising his flag before Aubameyang applied the finish did not affect any of United’s players.
He said: “Well it was a big mistake for us, we gave away an important goal. Of course it is easier if the linesman keeps his flag down, but we know there is VAR. If it is offside, it is offside. We need to stay focused.
“This is Manchester United, we play at Old Trafford, so we have to win these games. We have a young team, but the lads have to react and play better to win these games.”
Old Trafford witnessed an error-strewn performance with Axel Tuanzebe’s stray pass leading to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring the equaliser for the away side in the 58th minute.
Scott McTominay’s effort from range handed United the advantage on the stroke of half-time.
Both sides had to settle for a share of the spoils despite an intense last 20 minutes.
Here, we look at the talking points form the encounter.
MCTOMINAY STEPPING UP
Is there a more improved player than McTominay in the Premier League at the moment? This is not to say that the 22-year-old was lacking to begin with but he’s certainly not the most breathtaking talent to emerge from United’s academy.
However, since breaking into the first team last season, his progress has been remarkable. A strong work ethic was always present, evidenced by his gruelling training sessions in Dubai over the summer, but with every game he gets under his belt the Scot grows as a midfielder.
At 6ft 4in, McTominay is blessed with the physique to thrive in England’s top flight and as he’s become increasingly confident; his ability on the ball has been gradually revealed.
His strike to hand United the lead was top notch and didn’t belong in a match so starved of quality. He certainly did the spectators a favour though as it seemed to set up a far more tolerable spectacle in the second period.
While Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continues to lead United down this long road to recovery, surely McTominay is established as an indispensable building block.
Much has been made about United dispensing of both Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez over the summer without replacements. The Chilean may have been dead weight and though Lukaku wasn’t Solskjaer’s preferred choice, he did account for a good chunk of goals.
With Anthony Martial injured, United’s shortcomings in attack have been exposed. For all his good qualities, Rashford is still lacking the finishing touch. Meanwhile, Mason Greenwood has been hailed by Solskjaer as one of the best finishers he’s ever seen but the teenager is still being used sparingly.
On the other side of the battle lines, the Gunners are well-stocked for ammunition. Even in the absence of the injured Alexandre Lacazette, Aubameyang’s presence meant they retained a lethal goal-scorer up front.
Arsenal have hardly been impressive this season but their firepower has bailed them out repeatedly, thanks in no small part to their clinical nature in front of goal.
On this occasion, Aubameyang pounced on an error in United’s defence and when faced with an onrushing David De Gea, expertly chipped the ball over the Spaniard and into the back of the net. It was a finish that oozed class. It was one of a handful of actions from the Gabon international who otherwise lingered on the fringes of the game. But for an elite striker, one moment is all you need.
Meanwhile, United have failed to score more than one goal in a game since their opening day win over Chelsea. What they would give for a finisher in Aubameyang’s mould.
MISERY LOVES COMPANY
For years, United and Arsenal’s encounters were the ones to look out for when the fixtures were revealed. The late ’90s and early ’00s were littered with pulsating clashes between the two English giants with the monstrous figures of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira patrolling the midfield, sporting armbands that are now donned by Ashley Young and Granit Xhaka.
It was equal parts champagne football and a bloodbath. Even when Arsenal’s title challenges fell away, you could count on good football when the two crossed paths. Entertainment was guaranteed.
This disheveled display though was indicative of how far both teams have fallen now. Neither are anywhere near mounting a title challenge and even securing a top four spot seems more like an ideal than a clear and attainable objective.
Monday night’s game was a horrible advert for the Premier League and an embarrassment to the monumental battles this fixture served up in years gone by. The only comfort for both sides remain each others’ misery. How the mighty have fallen.