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Record signing to free transfer: Why Pepe failed at Arsenal



After completing his £72 million move to Arsenal in 2019, Nicolas Pépé reflected on how he had “struggled a lot” and a big Premier League move was his reward.

As it turned out, his struggles had only just begun. On Saturday, the 28-year-old completed a journey from club-record signing to free transfer in a four-year downward spiral that reflects badly on everyone involved.

The days of Arsenal paying players to leave the club were supposed to be over. But such was the lack of interest in a winger who has badly lost his way, the Gunners ripped up the final year of his contract and allowed him to join Trabzonspor for no fee.

Pepe is the ninth player to leave in this fashion since Mikel Arteta took over as manager in 2019, and Arsenal will hope the Ivory Coast international is the last.

It is tempting with the benefit of hindsight to suggest Pepe’s career at Arsenal was doomed from the start. The inflated fee created its own burden. There was general surprise among agents working in the market that summer that Arsenal paid as much as they did, even if Pepe registered 22 goals and 11 assists in a prolific 2018-19 campaign for Lille.

Lille owner Gerard Lopez has subsequently claimed another unnamed club offered even more money than Arsenal as a total package including wages — Napoli were serious contenders at one stage — but the final figure was greeted with widespread scepticism — that began outside the club, but later spread through the confines of the Gunners’ London Colney base.

ESPN reported in August 2020 that the deal was scrutinised internally as part of a review of the club’s decision-making processes, which led to cost-cutting measures. Although the club denied any formal investigation, head of football Raul Sanllehi left later that month with no official explanation given.

Sanllehi had been a key figure in negotiating several deals, including the pursuit of Pepe — who was not the first choice of then-manager Unai Emery — to strengthen their attacking options. Emery admitted in January 2021 that he in fact wanted to sign Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha instead. Ironically, both players are now in Turkey with Zaha joining Galatasaray earlier this summer.

Nicolas Pepe joined Arsenal in 2019 and struggled to make the impact expected of his then-record transfer fee before leaving as a free agent last month. David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images
Emery stated his preference was predicated upon the idea Zaha would need less time to adapt to English football; Pepe certainly struggled in that regard, a process not helped by a change in the dugout. Arsenal sacked Emery in November 2019 and appointed Arteta a month later, triggering a radical overhaul of the playing style and the squad itself.

Even amid the transition, Pepe had his moments. There was his brilliant goal in Arsenal’s June 2020 defeat to Brighton and an assist for the winning goal in August’s FA Cup final win over Chelsea. In fact, he had a superb goal ruled out in that final by a tight VAR offside call — perhaps a sliding doors moment in a career that never quite took off.

Pepe was all about moments: a fine free kick, a smart piece of skill, a flurry of goals in the Europa League. But he lacked the consistency Arteta craved.

Some questioned his commitment, too. Sources have told ESPN that Pepe spent a lot of time with Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, forming a clique that Arteta increasingly believed was stifling the squad’s progress. Aubameyang was later stripped of the captaincy after repeated bouts of ill-discipline and jettisoned to Barcelona while Lacazette faded in influence and left on a free transfer to rejoin Lyon last year.

Sources suggested Pepe gained a reputation for rarely being one of the first on the training pitch, often hanging back with Lacazette and Aubameyang as the squad made their way out from the changing room. He was also said to often neglect acknowledging staff around the training ground who weren’t closely connected to first-team operations.

By his own admission, Pepe had problems with authority growing up. On his first day at his first professional club, Angers, the manager told him to shave off his showy blond-dyed mohawk. He defied the instruction, only belatedly doing so when marginalised in preseason training. Pepe also once shouted back at his coach during an under-19s game. He was immediately substituted and forced to apologise to his teammates.

Many young players go through such learning experiences and, in his defence, there were certainly signs at Arsenal that Pepe had grown up. He was not an aggressively corrosive figure, or the “mole” Arteta sought to identify after news of a training ground bustup involving Dani Ceballos and David Luiz was leaked to the media in January 2021.

In fact, when Pepe’s partner gave birth to a baby boy in February last year — a seismic moment in anybody’s life — he told Arteta that despite missing training as a result, he still wanted to be considered for selection in their next Premier League game against Wolves because the squad was short of attacking options. Pepe came off the bench to score one and make another as Arsenal came from behind to win 2-1.

“I see a different Nico,” Arteta said after that match, referencing “his energy, his happiness, his all-round play, how he’s training” as evidence Pepe could soon turn a corner. But it proved another false dawn. Arsenal evolved under Arteta, and Pepe’s stock diminished further, the flickers of quality receding into darkness.

To his credit, Pepe agreed to take a 25% pay cut to join Nice on loan last season, ensuring the move happened rather than taking an easy option of remaining on a higher salary without any responsibility of playing. He left Arsenal for good with a record of 27 goals in 112 games, agreeing a compromise on the final year of his contract to join Trabzonspor.

Ultimately, Arsenal simply did not know what version of Pepe they would get, and Arteta is a manager who craves clarity in that regard. Defensively, Pepe did not work hard enough, but regardless it did not help his cause that at the same time, Bukayo Saka rapidly developed into one of the most consistent and dangerous right-wing players in Europe, adored by Arsenal fans.

The Gunners have since overhauled their transfer approach with significant success as the acquisitions of Martin Odegaard, Ben White and Gabriel Jesus. among others, indicate.

Meanwhile, Pepe seeks to rebuild his career in Turkey, and the struggle continues to be real.

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Lagos FA Bans Dangerous Weapons At Match Venues, To Strengthen Security At Stadia




The current management of the Lagos State Football Association (LSFA) has read out the insurgency that led to violence at venues in Lagos State and therefore provides a list of permitted stadium facilities and prohibited items.

According to a document signed by the association’s secretary, Akeem Rabiu-Okikioposu, the LSFA states that any item that could be used as a weapon and/or endanger public safety is now rejected. in state stadiums. These items include cans or bottles, glass vessels, knives and blades, laser pointers, pointed-tip umbrellas, poles thicker than a ‘pencil’ (0.5cm), smoke canisters, weapons and ammunition.

The Lagos FA Association also prohibits the placement in the gaming facilities of any item that may disrupt the conduct of the game or disturb other fans, regardless of whether such item is illegal or carried for a specific purpose.

These items include spray cans, audio-video recorders, balls, beach balls or projectiles, cameras with an external flash or interchangeable lenses (not intended for professional photography), drones, flares, fireworks/missiles/explosives, flares, electrical/optical illusions, Frisbee, laptop/tablet. not permitted on seats, large suitcases, large bags or large back, pets (other than service animals), signs/flags/banners, company signs or inappropriately marked signs or items, selfie poles, tripods/monopods, unauthorized flyers, unlicensed musical instruments such as trumpets, drums and other equipment that may cause disruption or nuisance, but supporters club must be accredited to bring these instruments into stadiums.

The FA noted that Lagosians have always loved match days, hence the LSFA’s determination to provide a security architecture that ensures people’s safety without disrupting them.

“Football events are exciting. They are full of intense emotions and passions. That’s why we attach great importance to making every event as safe as possible because it is special and the fans deserve to be safe.

“We use our experience and knowledge to develop and deliver football security solutions that make every football event enjoyable. Good security doesn’t mean the experience can’t run smoothly, and the most important thing about this big day is enjoying it safely. Based on this, we might highlight stadium-permitted items on each football event day,” the FA said.

However, Lagos FA management assured fans that “the security team has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that the necessary planning and organization is in place behind this magnificence.”

“The team is overseen by facilities management over security and administration through to traffic and parking coordination. Our essential services are at the heart of every successful event.

“LSFA is committed to setting the standard for the industry, the Lagos State Neighborhood Safety Corps (LNSC) personnel are well trained, qualified and full of initiative suitable for the project.

Meanwhile, the Lagos FA also listed some items that are not banned but allowed in stadiums. These items include bags that may be subject to security screening, cameras with a lens of 3 inches or less without lighting, tripods, selfie sticks or monopods, flags, food and fruit, plastic bottles, small umbrellas, small cameras and binoculars.

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Thomas Partey returns to Arsenal from injury




Thomas Partey has returned to Arsenal training ahead of Tuesday night’s Champions League clash against Lens.

Partey had been absent from the Gunners’ line-up since before last month’s international break due to a groin injury he sustained on the eve of the match with Manchester United.

This injury led him to miss the 3-1 win as well as subsequent fixtures against Everton, PSV, Tottenham, Brentford and Bournemouth.

Partey is now back in full training with team-mates as they prepare for their second Champions League group stage match of the campaign. However, it is more likely that Partey returns for Sunday’s crunch showdown with title rivals Manchester City.

As reported by last week, Partey was recovering well from his groin injury and is aiming to be fit for the upcoming clash with City at the Emirates Stadium on October 8. While it is yet to be confirmed if Partey will be included in the Arsenal squad that travels to France, his imminent availability for selection is a significant boost for Mikel Arteta.

In further positive news for Arsenal, Bukayo Saka was also seen participating in Monday morning’s training session at London Colney. There had been concerns about the winger’s fitness after he suffered a knock during the 4-0 victory over Bournemouth at the weekend, which resulted in him being substituted in the second half.

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Excellence Reward: Super Falcons’ Halimat Ayinde Bags Award In Sweden




Super Falcons midfield General Halimat Ayinde has been recognised and rewarded by the Nigerian community in Malmo, Sweden.

Ayinde was celebrated and given an award for her patriotic and selfless service to Nigeria and the community during the last FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia.

” I am honoured to receive this meritorious award from the Nigerian community in Malmo, Sweden.
Your support and recognition means the world to me. I will keep working hard to make you proud”, she resounded on her official Facebook page.

The Rosegard FF player was greatly missed by the Super Falcons after serving out a red card suspension together with Rasheedat Ajibade in the third place match against Zambia in the last Women African Cup Of Nations in Morocco. The Super Falcons eventually lost the match by a lone goal.

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