Arsenal Reportedly Make Nicolas Pepe Top Transfer Target for January

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistNovember 21, 2018

Lille's Ivorian forward Nicolas Pepe (R) vies with Strasbourg's French midfielder Anthony Caci (L) during the French League Cup football match between Strasbourg (RCSA) and Lille (LOSC) on October 30, 2018 at the Meinau stadium in Strasbourg, eastern France. (Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images)

Nicolas Pepe is one of Arsenal's "main targets" as the Premier League club prepares to bring in a forward during the January transfer window. 

The Gunners want Lille attacker Pepe, who is valued at £27 million and is also coveted by north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, according to Gary Jacob of The Times.

Jacob also noted Arsenal have changed a stance on making signings this winter after striker Danny Welbeck picked up an ankle injury. Welbeck went down during the 0-0 draw at home to Sporting CP in the UEFA Europa League earlier this month.

The England international has since undergone a pair of surgeries. His absence means Unai Emery's squad is without a versatile goalscorer who can operate on either flank or play through the middle.

Welbeck's injury has changed Arsenal's transfer priorities in January.
Welbeck's injury has changed Arsenal's transfer priorities in January.Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Welbeck also provided valuable cover for prolific goalscorers Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He was proving especially useful in cup competitions, helping himself to four of his five goals in starts across both the Europa League and Carabao Cup.

Welbeck's multiple value makes sense of Emery's interest in Pepe. The 23-year-old Ivory Coast international possesses the pace, trickery and eye for goal to add another dimension to Arsenal's attack.

Notably, the player with nine goals and five assists to his credit would provide genuine width to a forward line relying too often on central players to play wide.

Arsenal's cause isn't helped by the interest from Tottenham, though. Not when Spurs may have the edge thanks to their place in the UEFA Champions League.

Emery wants to strengthen his forward line for the push to qualify for next season's Champions League.
Emery wants to strengthen his forward line for the push to qualify for next season's Champions League.Sam Bagnall - AMA/Getty Images

The Lilywhites are also leading Arsenal in the race to qualify for Europe's premier club tournament next season. They are fourth and three points ahead of the Gunners.

Arsenal have fourth place in their sights, an ambition likely to be helped by adding Pepe. However, signing the player for £27 million may prove difficult after Spanish football expert Guillem Balague (h/t Harry Howes of the Daily Star) recently said Lille will want closer to €50 million (£43 million).

While the reality likely lies between both values, there's no doubt Pepe's price tag will grow alongside his queue of suitors. Arsenal should act fast to get a deal agreed ahead of January.