Premier League • England

Arsenal exclusive: Wilfried Zaha would have loved Gunners move as insider reveals just how close forward came to joining

Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace, March 2023

Wilfried Zaha lining up ahead of game for Crystal Palace

Wilfried Zaha was a priority signing for former Arsenal manager Unai Emery in 2019, but Gunners chiefs ended up spending £72million on Nicolas Pepe instead, according to Charles Watts.

Arsenal have been repeatedly linked with Zaha in recent years amid his great performances for Crystal Palace. The attacker notched 90 goals and 76 assists in 458 appearances for the Eagles and established himself as their talisman during his second spell at Selhurst Park.

Four years ago, Emery pushed for Arsenal to sign Zaha and bolster his options out wide. And the goalscorer was open to the move as he has always had big admiration for Arsenal. Instead, Arsenal went down a different route and broke their transfer record on Pepe, who went on to endure a poor spell in North London.

Zaha, in contrast, continued to shine in the Premier League. He recently became a free agent following the expiry of his Palace contract.

The Ivory Coast international was chased by Saudi Arabian clubs before ultimately deciding to join Galatasaray on a three-year deal instead.

“I expected him to go to a different club rather than Galatasaray,” Watts told TEAMtalk. “Interestingly, Francis Cagigao has just taken over as head of recruitment at Gala. He was at Arsenal for a long, long time. I wasn’t expecting Arsenal to do anything.

“Unai Emery really wanted him in the summer of 2019. And Arsenal signed Nicolas Pepe instead; they didn’t give Unai what he wanted. That obviously turned out to be a very bad decision. That was the time for Arsenal to sign him but the money just wasn’t feasible, what Crystal Palace were demanding.

Wilfried Zaha ‘has always been an Arsenal fan’ – Charles Watts

“Zaha would have loved to come to Arsenal, he was always an Arsenal fan. He made it clear he wanted to come to Arsenal. And I’m sure he’s going to end his career pretty disappointed he never got to achieve that.

“Around that time, he probably felt there was a very good chance of that happening. Emery wanted him, he really wanted to push the board to sign him. But they went down another route.

“Once that happened, I never really expected Arsenal to rekindle that interest. He was always linked with them, but I felt if that was going to happen, it was going to have to be that summer.”

Meanwhile, Watts has also provided TEAMtalk with an update on Arsenal’s transfer plans and what must happen before any new players arrive at the club.