Arsenal to swap Pépé for want-away Serbian striker?


Now that it looks likely that Arsenal will qualify for the Champions League next season—something that is now almost guaranteed given the gap between us and fourth-placed Tottenham—thoughts start to turn to summer transfers. Long-standing interest in 23 year old Serbian striker Dusan Vlahovic may therefore find new life, especially given Juventus’s precarious position, seventh in Serie A and reeling from Calciopoli II: The Scandal’s Sequel.

First things first: Nicolas Pépé. While he’s still Arsenal’s record-setting transfer, at least as far as fees are concerned, he never quite fit in. With Saka and Martinelli surging forward, there’s even less room for the Ivorian in the XI. He seems to have found his level while on loan to Nice, and I don’t mean to slight him in the least. It’s not his fault that Unai Sanllehi1 pushed so hard to sign him, and he wouldn’t be the first player to struggle to justify such a fee. If he’s willing to sanction a move to Juventus—certainly a step up from Nice—Dusan might just find a way out of Dante’s Inferno and over to the Arsenal.

(Fun fact: “Arsenal” comes to English by way of Italian from Arabic. Dar as-sina’ah or “house of art, craft, skill” passed into Italian at some point as arzenale, and, well, you can take it from there).

Might the Serbian follow a similar journey from Italy to England? The rumours have persisted ever since Vlahovic made his £70m move from Fiorentina just over a year ago. He’s done tolerably well over there, going for 20 goals and six assists in 49 appearances across various competitions. One has to wonder though if he’s underperforming given Juve’s struggles. While he would certainly supplant Nketiah, he might have to accept a diminished role albeit an imporant one in a squad looking for silverware on several levels.

With his size (1.9m), he would offer something different to what Gabriel Jesus offers—namely, an aerial threat. Think of him as an upgrade on Giroud. He can offer hold-up play, knock balls down for Martinelli, Saka, Jesus, or Trossard running off him, and occupy CBs. If there’s a knock against him, it’s that he doesn’t offer much when it comes to pressing, but that might be more a byproduct of Juve’s style than of the player’s desire.

If we could prise him away, dangling Pépé as an enticement to a club facing a season away from Champions League play, think of the options. We’d have as central options Vlahovic, Jesus, and Trossard. With Vlahovic through the middle, we could deploy Jesus, Trossard, or Martinelli on the left. We could deploy Saka or Trossard on the right.

The mind boggles.

Of course, this is all speculative. Getting Pépé’s £140k/wk salary off the books is one thing. Doing so while securing Vlahovic in one fell swoop is quite another. Still, dare to dream…

One last thing: this month, you can enter a raffle for a £25 Arsenal Direct gift card by commenting at the blog. The more often you comment, the better your chances at winning!

1 I erroneously accused Unai Emery of pushing to sign Pépé. As pointed out in the comments below, that was Sanllehi’s doing.

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17 thoughts on “Arsenal to swap Pépé for want-away Serbian striker?

  1. Efigenia Pereira

    Yes please! Easy on the eyes LOL and ready to lead the line. Let’s save him from the sinking ship!

    1. Jon Shay Post author

      Good point! I had forgotten that (I’m frequently too quick to blame Emery, which is unfair of me. He’s showing himself to be a good manager at VIlla; he just wasn’t the right man for our needs at the time). Sanllehí on the other hand was dubious all around to say the least.

      1. Eoin

        I have my doubts. He hasn’t exactly set the world on fire at Juventus. However, I’m learning to trust Arteta’s. If he wants Vlahović, that’s good enough for me.

    1. Brendan

      That’s a long shot though, they’re off the pace in Serie A and have a ways to go to win the Europa League. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sporting oust them.

      1. Charles Mark-onyegbu

        Juve are a bigger club than arsenal anyday, any time..Vlahovic choose Juve over arsenal…if Juve decides to sell, it’s at there own terms, becos Vlahovic will never force himselves off Juve, maybe only Real, Bayern or Barca

        1. Brendan

          I don’t think they are. The Prem is certainly bigger than Serie A, and Juve have come down in the world since the days of Buffon, Chiellini, Bonucci, Pirlo, etc. Arsenal meanwhie have a chance at winning the Prem with one of the youngest squads around.

          I agree buying from Juve would be hard, they’re really tough negotiators. If their scandals continue to damage them, why would Vlahovic commit himself to that?

  2. palladio43

    The obvious mistake was choosing Pepe over Zaha who truly wanted to come to the Arsenal. We have missed on him more than once and now be it age or injury he may never be a Gunner, as will be the case most probably for Pepe. The only lesson learned from that affair may well be why Mudryck is not a Gunner and the money was better spent elsewhere. The winners in that most recent transaction were the sellers. Hopefully the did divert some of those profits to their nation’s war efforts as they claimed.

    1. Kelechi

      I would have loved to see the hot come here. Unai Emery, did an interview and said that Zaha won games for Palace single-handedly. of course Pepe did that sometimes too. The way things turned out though, I prefer that Martinelli and Saka got the chance to develop instead of us having Zaha or Pepe. Getting Pepe off the books would be a nice move.

    1. palladio43

      Interesting observation, but theoretically Xhaka is Swiss and was born in Basel. Granted, the Croats, Serbs, Bosnians, etc Al have been holding grudges and feuding for 600 years let alone since Tito died, but I suspect keeping their eye on the prize, be it top of PL, Champions League, etc would have meant more. I do agree that Martinelli and Saka have developed in the interim, we will never know who might have been brought in elsewhere had we not needed to fill Pepe’s void.
      BTW Jon, how about predictions for the remaining matches, both for Arsenal and City and will we rue those draws or losses at start of 2023 and those one or two points?

      1. Maya

        He might be Swiss by nationality, but he is an ethnic Albanian, and his dad was a prisoner of war under the Serbs. Xhaka also has a long history of ruling up the Serbian national team, whenever the Swiss play them.

      2. Jon Shay Post author

        You may have missed the Serbia-Switzerland match when Xhaka grabbed his family jewels and said something to the Serbian bench after which the entire squad surrounded him. There’s an infamous picture of Xhaka staring down the Serbia keeper as the keeper throttles him. Still, I doubt Arteta would be interested in Vlahovic is Xhaka objected. Two years ago before Xhaka’s redemption? That might be another story.

        As for predictions, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. One match at a time. I do know that our magic number (which they don’t really seem to use in England) is 23 – if we win 8 of our 10 matches, the title is ours. If City drop points as they chase Champions League glory, so much the better.

        On a side note, would Man U get to call this campaign a success if they win the League Cup, win the Europa League, but fall out of the top four?

        1. palladio43

          Let us not get caught up in the various wars fought amongst the folks of “the former Yugoslavia” or any the other names used for those countries and that area. My feeling is that Xhaka’s lack of love for the Serbs is not rooted in the long-term, but in the more recent brutal conflict involving Kosovo, which is about 90% Albanian, but still claimed by the Serbs (PS: Nobody likes the Serbs in that region, especially those peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina, especially in Sarajevo).

          As to predictions, I would of course like to be past the upcoming matches with Liverpool and City with victories, of course, but also some of those other matches may become troublesome given that a few of those squads will be fighting to avoid relegation. Speaking of which, I now see that both Potter and Rodgers have been relegated to the pile of ex-managers although not necessarily as a consequence of their actions and that Pochettino has been told Spurs have no interest in his return (if he was foolish enough to want to do so) although Leicester might. Obviously, with the end of the season approaching, spring cleaning has begun although owners never want to consider who might have created all that dirt.


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