On the back of a stellar campaign for Lille that saw him register a combined 33 goals and assists in Ligue 1, Nicolas Pepe has completed a big-money switch to Arsenal that makes him one of the most expensive players in British football history.

The 24-year-old rose through the ranks in France and acquired a growing band of admirers, with Arsenal winning the race after having an €80million (£72.9m) offer accepted by Lille.

Pepe is now under pressure to match the form he showed last season as he embarks on a new chapter, in what will be his first spell outside of French football.

Following confirmation of his move to Emirates Stadium, we look at Pepe's career to date and explore exactly why Arsenal decided to break their transfer record to sign him.

Goalkeeper... striker... winger

The Ivory Coast international made a name for himself with his performances from the right-hand side of attack last season, but things could have turned out very differently.

Marcelo Bielsa, the man who brought Pepe to Lille from Angers in June 2017, used him in a central striking role until he was sacked and replaced by Christophe Galtier in December that year.

It was only then that Pepe's career started to take off. He played an important part in Lille's survival bid in 2017-18 with 13 goals and pushed on last season with 22 in the French top flight - a tally only bettered by Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe - on top of chipping in with 11 assists.

Going further back, meanwhile, the talented wideman often played as a goalkeeper in his teens while at FC Paris Solitaires Est, only focusing on a career as an outfield player when he joined Poitiers in 2012.

Big chance at Angers

Pepe was recommended to Angers by Poitiers sporting director Philippe Leclerc in 2013 and made his professional debut in November 2014, before a spell on loan with third-tier side Orleans.

The winger was named as the best player in the division as he helped Orleans to promotion, and he impressed enough on his return to Angers to earn a transfer to Lille in June 2017.

His form at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy last season ensured he was a name on the lips of pretty much every elite team across Europe, becoming the first Lille player to score at least 19 goals in a Ligue 1 campaign since Eden Hazard in 2011-12

Napoli are known to have had a bid accepted, while Liverpool and Manchester United are among the English sides rumoured to have made enquiries.

What can Arsenal expect?

But it is Arsenal supporters who can look forward to seeing Pepe up close on a weekly basis, having made him the fourth most expensive player in Premier League history behind Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Virgil van Dijk.

No player did more to lift Lille from 17th in 2017-18 to second in 2018-19, with only Lionel Messi (49), Kylian Mbappe (40) and Fabio Quagliarella (34) surpassing Pepe's combined number of goals and assists (33) in Europe's top five leagues.

He is a player that thrives on the counter, scoring six goals and attempting 15 shots from fast breaks last season, and he is a nuisance to defend against - as highlighted by the 108 fouls won, the most in Ligue 1 last term.

In fact, Pepe won his team five penalties with his tricky footwork and converted from the spot nine times - only Crystal Palace's Luka Milivojevic (10) was more successful from 12 yards in the top divisions.

Set to line up alongside world-class attacking talents in the shape of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, and with ammunition provided by Mesut Ozil and fellow new recruit Dani Ceballos, there is every reason to believe Pepe can follow in the footsteps of Hazard by continuing his remarkable rise in his new surroundings.

Arsenal have announced the signing of Lille forward Nicolas Pepe in a club-record deal reported to be worth £72million (£80m).

Pepe was linked with Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli and Champions League winners Liverpool after a breakthrough 2018-19 season.

The Ivory Coast attacker scored 22 Ligue 1 goals last term and supplied 11 assists to catch the eye of Europe's elite clubs.

But it is Arsenal who have landed the 24-year-old, who eclipses Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the club's record signing.

 

Unai Emery says Arsenal's deal for Lille forward Nicolas Pepe is "not closed".

Lille president Gerard Lopez told RMC Sport on Wednesday that Pepe's move to Arsenal for £72.8million (€80m) would soon be completed.

That fee would break Arsenal's transfer record but Emery is cautious over the Ivory Coast international's future, although he suggested Pepe may not be the last new arrival.

"He played here in Angers a few years ago, and then in Lille. He has progressed as a player," Emery told reporters after a pre-season friendly against the Ligue 1 side. 

"We are speaking about a lot of players, we want to select on players who can really help us, give us big performances and improve our squad. We have different options. This one at the moment is not closed, but he is one we are following.

"We are working on the possibilities to sign players. We signed [Dani] Ceballos, and we have a possibility with Pepe. We are looking for the possibility to improve, but only if we can take more steps in the squad.

"Our target is to sign another player if he can really, really improve us. Our target is continuing to sign another player if we can."

Emery added talks are ongoing with Laurent Koscielny over the defender's future at the club after he refused to travel with the squad on pre-season amid links with a return to Ligue 1.

"He's a very important player for us. We are speaking with him and with the team, about my responsibilities, the club's responsibility and his responsibility," the Arsenal boss said.

"With respect it's better for us, it's better for the team, and it's changing our idea with the centre-back, because if he is here with us this season, it's very different than if he isn't with us. At the moment it's a very personal decision, and we are respecting that.

"I am speaking with him and we are going to find the best solution, but overall we need a player like him. We want to be strong in our defensive line, working with the players we have now."

Emery's side beat Angers 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw at the Stade Raymond-Kopa.

It was an experimental squad named by Emery, but Arsenal are now without a win in their past three pre-season friendlies ahead of facing Barcelona in the Joan Gamper Trophy on Sunday.

"We are going to play the first match away against Newcastle, and tonight was a similar performance against that sort of opposition Angers, and also they were giving everything in their performance against us for their supporters," Emery added.

"There were two very different halves. The first half they started harder than us and they scored. We didn't control the game like we wanted. In the second half we became better to control the game, with the ball and having more chances to score.

"I think from the second half we deserved a better result. But the most important thing today was to work well physically and with different players. Also today the young players took some minutes, knowing we needed a performance against a difficult team here away."

Arsenal are set to sign Lille forward Nicolas Pepe for €80million (£72.9m), according to Lille president Gerard Lopez.

Pepe hit 22 Ligue 1 goals last season as Lille finished second in the table behind Paris Saint-Germain.

PSG coach Thomas Tuchel made his admiration for the Ivory Coast forward clear, with Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Manchester United among the other major clubs linked with Pepe.

Carlo Ancelotti also confirmed the player was a target for Napoli, but the 24-year-old is instead set to become Arsenal's record signing.

"I think it should be done in the next 24 hours," Lopez told RMC Sport. "It is €80m fixed, plus some other details.

"In talking with Nico and his agents, things focused on the certain clubs that we wanted to focus on, the two projects that interested the player."

Pepe will join an impressive forward line at Arsenal, who also boast Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and former Lyon star Alexandre Lacazette.

He will become the Gunners' third signing of the close season after Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos joined on loan and William Saliba chose Unai Emery's side over rivals Tottenham.

However, defender Saliba is set to stay on loan in Ligue 1 with Saint-Etienne for the 2019-20 season.

The huge swap deal involving Paulo Dybala and Romelu Lukaku is seemingly getting closer.

In what shapes as being one of the biggest moves of the close season, Dybala could be heading to Manchester United and Lukaku to Juventus.

And unlike Inter's move for the striker, Juventus appear to be making progress with the Premier League giants.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UNITED, JUVENTUS AGREE DYBALA-LUKAKU SWAP DEAL

Manchester United and Juventus have agreed a swap deal involving Dybala and Lukaku in principle, according to Sky Italia.

All that is left is for the Premier League club to agree terms with the Argentina international and the blockbuster move would be complete.

Lukaku has been heavily linked with a switch to Inter, while Dybala's Juve future has been uncertain after four seasons in Turin.

ROUND-UP

- Amid uncertainty at Valencia, former Real Madrid and Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho is being lined up as a potential replacement for coach Marcelino, according to Libertad.

- Neymar's potential return to Barcelona appears no closer to a resolution. Marca report Paris Saint-Germain have little desire to negotiate with the LaLiga champions, unwilling to even listen to offers from Barca. The saga rolls on.

- Nicolas Pepe is set to become an Arsenal player. The Mirror and The Sun report the striker's move from Lille for £72million (€78.5m) is done amid apparently leaked photos of the Ivory Coast international modelling the Premier League club's kit.

- With their move for Lukaku seemingly off, Inter are again turning to Roma striker Edin Dzeko. According to Gianluca Di Marzio, there was fresh contact between the Serie A clubs for a deal that would send Dzeko to Inter and Mauro Icardi, unwanted in Milan, to Roma. Meanwhile, he also reports Inter are continuing talks over Eintracht Frankfurt and Croatia attacker Ante Rebic.

- Moise Kean's surprise move from Juventus to Everton is almost done. According to CalcioMercato, the Premier League club have reached an agreement with Juve for a £27.5m (€30m) deal plus bonuses, which could take it to £37.5m (€40.9m), with the striker set to complete a medical on Wednesday.

- Are Manchester United looking elsewhere as they struggle to land Leicester City star Harry Maguire? Le10Sport say United are willing to make a £45.9m (€50m) offer for Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti as they look to strengthen their defence after Eric Bailly's serious knee injury.

The contract still needs signing but Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is poised to make the biggest move of his career… if you believe reports.

Linked with Europe's biggest clubs last season, Lazio star Milinkovic-Savic is once again in demand heading into 2019-20.

And the Serbia international's future is reportedly already decided.

 

TOP STORY – MILINKOVIC-SAVIC GIVES UNITED HIS WORD

Lazio midfielder Milinkovic-Savic has a verbal agreement to join Manchester United, according to the Daily Mail.

With Paul Pogba's future at Old Trafford uncertain amid links to Real Madrid, Milinkovic-Savic has emerged as a transfer target for the Red Devils.

And Serbia international Milinkovic-Savic – who is reportedly rated at £80million – has agreed in principal to make the switch to Manchester as the world waits on Pogba's next move.

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Old Trafford and Manchester United are closing in on Sporting CP captain Bruno Fernandes. SPORT claims United are readying a £63m (€70m) offer for the 24-year-old Portugal midfielder. It comes after the Red Devils tried to continue their Portuguese pursuit with a move for Benfica defender Ruben Dias as an alternative to Leicester City star Harry Maguire but the club were unsuccessful, according to O Jogo.

- According to RMC, Nicolas Pepe to Arsenal is not a done deal. Lille star Pepe has been tipped to join the Gunners, however, Liverpool and Inter are reportedly still in the running to sign the Ivory Coast international.

Juventus are in pole position to sign Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku ahead of Serie A rivals Inter. That is according to Tuttosport, who say the possibility of a swap deal involving Paulo Dybala has put Juve at the front of the queue. Dybala is also wanted by Tottenham.

- Marca reports Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen is interested in a move to Juventus. The Spanish newspaper says Eriksen – who has no intention of re-signing with Spurs – also likes Manchester United and Atletico Madrid, having been previously linked to Real Madrid.

- Everton midfielder Idrissa Gueye is set to undergo a medical with Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain on Monday ahead of his €32m (£28.7m) transfer, reports the Guardian. Everton, meanwhile, reportedly had a £52m bid for Wilfried Zaha rejected by Premier League rivals Crystal Palace.

- According to Turkish newspaper Star, Besiktas will make another attempt to sign Manchester City defender Eliaquim Mangala. The Frenchman has struggled to make an impact since arriving in 2014.

- Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning are unwilling to pay the transfer fee that Real Madrid are demanding for Gareth Bale, according to Marca. Bale was reportedly set for China but that move appears off… for now.

Atletico Madrid are growing pessimistic in their pursuit of Real Madrid's James Rodriguez. Atletico have emerged as frontrunners for James ahead of Napoli, however, negotiations with Madrid are proving difficult, reports Marca.

Carlo Ancelotti insists he is "not disappointed" after media reports began to indicate Napoli have missed out on Lille winger Nicolas Pepe to Arsenal.

Ivory Coast international Pepe scored 22 goals in Ligue 1 last term, subsequently emerging as one of the hottest properties in French football.

Pepe has been linked with a host of Europe's biggest clubs, including Manchester United, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.

Napoli and Arsenal appeared to be leading the chase, but speculation on Saturday suggested the Gunners had all but wrapped up a £72million deal.

And after beating Liverpool 3-0 in a friendly on Sunday, head coach Ancelotti seemed to accept Napoli have missed out on the forward.

"I don't like to talk about players of other teams, but I'm not disappointed," Ancelotti told reporters when asked about Arsenal's apparent success in landing Pepe.

"We have some players like Allan, [Kalidou] Koulibaly and Fabian Ruiz who are still on holiday. We are definitely looking for players.

"The transfer window is so long. We are looking [at signings]. If there are opportunities, we will look to seize those chances."

Unai Emery believes the ankle injury sustained by Alexandre Lacazette in Sunday's Emirates Cup defeat to Lyon is "not serious".

Arsenal went down 2-1 at home to the Ligue 1 side despite taking the lead through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with Moussa Dembele getting both of the visitors' goals.

Prior to the first goal, Arsenal lost former Lyon star Lacazette to an ankle injury in the 13th minute following an early knock.

Although he showed little sign of pain when jogging off the pitch, Lacazette was seen wearing a protective boot on his left foot post-game and was walking with a notable limp.

The striker will be examined by medical staff in the coming days, but Emery is confident Lacazette will not need long to rest.

"The doctor said to me he's going to check tomorrow [Monday]," Emery said. "It's in his ankle.

"He's going to be assessed over the next few days – it's not serious."

The potential arrival of Nicolas Pepe from Lille could provide a timely boost to Arsenal, with the goal-scoring winger tipped to complete a £72million (€80m) move.

Emery refused to confirm the validity of such reports, though he made no secret of Arsenal's admiration for the Ivory Coast international.

"The club is thinking on how we can improve," he said. "There are different players on the table.

"Pepe's a very good player. We only want players who can really, really improve the squad. We want the best players possible for the first game at Newcastle [on August 11]."

Arsenal lost 2-1 to a Moussa Dembele-inspired Lyon in the Emirates Cup on Sunday and saw Alexandre Lacazette substituted with an ankle injury.

France international Lacazette suffered a knock during the early exchanges and was withdrawn after just 13 minutes, as things got off to a poor start for Unai Emery.

The former Lyon star did run off the pitch, however, suggesting his withdrawal was merely a precaution.

Nevertheless, Lacazette's departure did not impact Arsenal a huge amount, as Joe Willock forced Anthony Lopes into two fine saves before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang opened the scoring – the striker meeting Henrikh Mkhitaryan's right-wing cross with a volley that left Lopes with no chance.

Bernd Leno made an excellent stop from Memphis Depay early in the second half, before Arsenal substitute Eddie Nketiah wasted two opportunities to increase the lead.

Lyon capitalised just past the hour – Dembele heading Depay's cross out of Leno's reach.

Gunners signings Dani Ceballos and Gabriel Martinelli came on soon after and the latter swiftly found the net, only for it to be disallowed for offside.

Lyon then went straight up the other end to get the winner, as Dembele coolly slotted past Leno on the break.

The visitors held on to claim the trophy, despite Aubameyang hitting the post from way out on the left wing late on.

Xavier Amaechi has left Arsenal and signed for Hamburg to continue the trend of young English footballers moving to Germany.

Amaechi, 18, has signed a four-year contract with the 2.Bundesliga side after entering the final 12 months of his deal at Emirates Stadium.

The winger reportedly turned down approaches from several European heavyweights, including Bayern Munich, and Arsenal's offer of an extension.

He joins Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho and RB Leipzig forward Ademola Lookman in completing a permanent switch to Germany, where Arsenal pair Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith-Rowe have recently spent time on loan.

Gareth Bale appears to be on the brink of leaving Real Madrid for the Chinese Super League.

It is reported the Wales star has agreed a deal with Jiangsu Suning, who must now finalise matters with Madrid.

Bale will apparently double his salary by swapping LaLiga for the CSL.

 

TOP STORY - BALE ON BRINK OF CHINA MOVE

Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale is close to moving to Jiangsu Suning of the Chinese Super League, according to Marca and AS.

The Wales international will reportedly earn €22million a season if he completes a move to the club, which is owned by Inter majority shareholders Suning Holdings Group.

Jiangsu must now finalise terms with Madrid before they can announce Bale as the biggest star yet to head to the CSL.

ROUND-UP

- James Rodriguez will now stay at Real Madrid as the LaLiga giants want cover for the injured Marco Asensio, reports El Chiringuito. Asensio suffered a serious knee injury in the International Champions Cup clash with Arsenal, while James has been linked to Atletico Madrid and Napoli.

Manchester United have agreed a fee in the region of €70million with Sporting CP for midfielder Bruno Fernandes, according to Corriere dello Sport.

Fernandes could end up replacing Paul Pogba, with ESPN claiming Real Madrid are confident they will strike a deal to sign the France star from Manchester United.

Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha could be tempted to join Everton, who are ready to offer £60m for the player, Sky Sports claim. Zaha has also been linked to Premier League rivals Arsenal and Chelsea.

- AC Milan are to sign Rafael Leao from Lille for €35m, with Tiago Djalo heading the other way for €5m, RMC Sport believe.

Dani Alves, who has emerged as a transfer target for Manchester City, called Barcelona to discuss a return to the club, according to Sport.

Tottenham's hopes of a stunning deal for Juventus forward Paulo Dybala could hinge on the departures of Danny Rose and Christian Eriksen, Sky Sports News say. Rose has been linked to Juve, while Eriksen is reportedly a target for Manchester United and Real Madrid.

- However, Sky also say Dybala could be offered to Manchester United as part of a Juventus bid to sign Romelu Lukaku, who is also wanted by Inter.

Dani Ceballos has revealed that former Arsenal forward Jose Antonio Reyes was his "childhood idol" and he spoke to his father before moving to north London.

The Spain Under-21 star will spend the 2019-20 season on loan with the Gunners from Real Madrid, where he had been struggling for regular first-team football.

Ceballos always followed the Gunners because of Reyes, a member of the 'Invincibles' side of 2003-04, who was killed in a car accident in June.

Having asked Reyes' father for some advice ahead of the move, Ceballos is now relishing the prospect of playing for the same side as his boyhood hero.

"This is a historic club that I've always looked out for because of Jose Antonio Reyes, who is from the same town as me and played here," he told the club's website.

"He made history at this club, winning the league title, so it's an important step in my career for me to join Arsenal.

"I spoke to his father just before coming here and he told me not to think twice because this is a wonderful club. Jose had a fantastic time here. 

"When I came into the training ground I saw a picture of him and it really struck me because he's like my childhood idol. Being at the club where he made a name for himself is a big step forward and I hope to make this club even bigger."

Ceballos will hope to make his first appearance for the club in the Emirates Cup match with Lyon on Sunday.

Kieran Tierney is struggling to stay focused at Celtic amid interest from Arsenal, according to manager Neil Lennon.

Celtic have rejected two bids from Arsenal for the left-back, who has been a key figure for the Hoops in recent seasons.

Arsenal's second offer is reported to have been in the region of £25million, and although Lennon stated talks are yet to resume, he expects the saga to continue towards the end of the transfer window.

Tierney is not thought to have asked to leave the club, but Lennon acknowledged it is difficult for the 22-year-old to remain focused with his future up in the air.

"It is as we were a week ago," Lennon, speaking as he officially opened the Celtic Festival at Glasgow's Scottish Event Campus, said. "Two bids have been in, two bids have been rejected and that's where we are.

"How confident am I he'll still be a Celtic player come the end of the window? Well, you can never say never.

"That's going to rumble on. If there is interest in him then other clubs may come in or Arsenal may come again. I can't predict that.

"At the minute, he's working away in the background and it's difficult for him to keep focused because he's only human, but we're supporting him all we can."

Celtic have already signed a left-back this close season, bringing in Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo from Rapid Vienna, though Lennon suggested the Scottish champions have a further contingency plan in place should Tierney depart.

"We obviously have worked out other options if that worst-case scenario were to happen," Lennon added.

 

Zinedine Zidane has dismissed speculation he does not get along with Dani Ceballos, insisting the midfielder was loaned to Arsenal to increase his game time.

Ceballos' season-long loan to the Premier League club was confirmed on Thursday, as the Spain international became the Gunners' second signing of the transfer window, followed closely by William Saliba.

The 22-year-old joined Madrid from Real Betis in 2017, having shined in the European Under-21 Championship following an impressive 2016-17 season in LaLiga.

However, Ceballos struggled to establish himself under Zidane, making 22 appearances in all competitions in 2017-18 before featuring 34 times last term.

Only three of those appearances came after Zidane had been reappointed as Los Blancos boss in March, though, and Ceballos has been handed an opportunity to test himself in England's top flight.

But Zidane affirmed he has no problem with Ceballos.

"No, it's not that I didn't get on with Ceballos. I think Dani needed to play a lot because he's an important player," Zidane told a news conference.

"It's true that at Madrid he has not had enough minutes, it's just about that. There are a lot of players here, a lot of competition. I wish him to play many games and do well."

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