Nicolas Pepe left Arsenal for Nice on loan after not making a single appearance for them so far this season. VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images
Arsenal’s all-time record signing has left the club after less than three years this week — for this season, at least — with Nicolas Pepe leaving the Premier League club to join Ligue 1 side OGC Nice on loan.
Pepe, 27, has moved to Nice after not making a single appearance for the Gunners so far this term. The club were left to wish their wayward winger well as they announced the news on Thursday, shortly before he was presented to his new fans at the Allianz Riviera stadium before Nice’s UEFA Conference League playoff second leg against Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
The Ivory Coast international arrived at the Emirates in August 2019, joining from Lille in a hefty £72 million transfer fee. He showed sporadic flashes of the talent that convinced the Gunners to spend that amount on him, but for the most part he was a model of frustrating inconsistency that eventually cost him his place in the first team.
He may have departed for pastures new, but Pepe remains one of the most expensive signings in Premier League history and one of many cautionary tales when it comes to the league’s biggest clubs breaking their own transfer records.
Here’s a look at the biggest signings made by each of the Big Six in the Premier League — Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur — their high and low points at those clubs and a ratings out of 10 for their overall contribution.
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Arsenal: Nicolas Pepe (£72m from Lille, August 2019)
Nicolas Pepe has today become our club-record signing!
🇨🇮 #PepeIsHere ⚡️
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) August 1, 2019
Quick, light on his feet and highly direct, Pepe looked like a perfect fit for Arsenal when he signed from Lille in the summer of 2019. The winger had scored 22 goals the previous campaign and finished as top scorer in Ligue 1 as Lille finished second in 2018-19.
Given that only two members of the Gunners’ squad had scored more than six league goals that same season, the hope was that Pepe would alleviate some of the burden on strike partnership Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. However, while momentary flickers of promise were enough to keep the crowd on side, he proved largely underwhelming from the off at Arsenal, scoring just five league goals and registering six assists in 31 games in his debut season.
With Mikel Arteta taking over as manager midway through that debut season, things picked up for Pepe in 2020-21 when he scored 10 league goals and finished with 16 goals in all competitions.
That brief upswing didn’t last as 2021-22 saw the winger pitch in with just one league goal and two assists in 20 games under Arteta, with the emergence of young attacking talents like Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli leading to Pepe’s slide into the fringes.
High: Defying an unimpressive start to his Arsenal career to finish as second highest goal-scorer in his second season.
Low: Being left out of the team entirely for all three of Arsenal’s opening games of the 2022-23 season.
Chelsea: Romelu Lukaku (£97.5m from Inter Milan, August 2021)
Welcome home, @RomeluLukaku9. 💙#LukWhosBack pic.twitter.com/P43CAIVqfU
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) August 12, 2021
The second-most expensive signing in Premier League history, Lukaku’s prodigal return to Chelsea last summer after firing Inter to the Serie A title was greeted by a wave of fanfare but soon turned sour after the Belgian’s form hit rock bottom around five games in.
The striker struggled to get to grips with coach Thomas Tuchel’s three-pronged attacking approach and, after sharing his frustration in a TV interview back in Italy, he fell so far out of favour that the German preferred to play central midfielders up front rather than his club’s record signing.
All in all, Lukaku played 26 times in the Premier League in 2021-22, scoring just eight goals in a poor campaign that also saw him embark upon a 10-game league run during which he failed to find the back of the net.
Less than a year since his grand return to Stamford Bridge, the beleaguered Belgium international has already been shuttled back to Inter, rejoining the Serie A side on a season-long loan deal last month.
High: Scoring against Arsenal on his second debut for Chelsea, then twice in a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa on his return to Stamford Bridge two games later.
Low: Failing to score a single Premier League goal between Dec. 29 and May 7, a brutally long fallow run of 129 days without notching a league goal.
Liverpool Football Club can confirm they have reached an agreement with Southampton for the transfer of Virgil van Dijk.
Full story: https://t.co/tJy9vsGOen pic.twitter.com/L17A7UwqaU
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 27, 2017
Darwin Nunez’s transfer from Benfica could break Liverpool’s existing record should the Uruguay striker trigger enough clauses to push his transfer fee to £85m, but for the time being the honour still belongs to Van Dijk.
The Dutchman had proven himself in the Premier League with Southampton before the Reds took the plunge, only to see the cultured centre-back go from strength to strength as an integral part of their famously steadfast back line.
Van Dijk’s arrival coincided with one of the most successful periods in Liverpool’s history with six major honours won including the Champions League in 2018-19 — the year in which the defender was crowned UEFA Men’s Player of the Year, PFA Players’ Player of the Year and Premier League Player of the Season. And he still hasn’t lost a league game at Anfield.
The #PFA Players’ Player of the Year 2019 @LFC and @OnsOranje defender @VirgilvDijk 🏆👏⚽️ #PFAawards #POTY pic.twitter.com/BLq2TFt2vR
— Professional Footballers’ Association (@PFA) April 28, 2019
High: Winning historic Premier League and Champions League titles under Jurgen Klopp in the space of just two seasons.
Low: Sustaining a nasty cruciate ligament injury in the Merseyside derby against Everton in October 2020 that kept the Dutchman out of action until the following July, missing 45 games in total as the Reds could only muster a third-place league finish.
Manchester City: Jack Grealish (£100m from Aston Villa, August 2021)
We are delighted to announce the signing of @JackGrealish on a six-year deal.
Welcome to City, Jack! 💙
🔷 #ManCity | https://t.co/axa0klD5re pic.twitter.com/5Y3gMREmKL
— Manchester City (@ManCity) August 5, 2021
Grealish became the most expensive Premier league signing in history when he left boyhood club Aston Villa in order to join the ranks at Manchester City last summer. Despite the extraordinary price tag, the 26-year-old England international has found opportunities somewhat limited since then, making just 23 league starts for City under Pep Guardiola and chipping in with three goals and as many assists.
It’s early days but Grealish has started the 2022-23 season in much the same vein, playing 90 minutes in City’s opener against West Ham United, then just 45 minutes against newly-promoted Bournemouth before being left out of the 3-3 draw against Newcastle United altogether (though a minor injury was later cited as the reason).
The sprightly winger has been decent in patches but still has a lot more to do before he convinces anybody that he’s of the calibre to command a triple-figure transfer fee.
Jack Grealish jokes that Pep Guardiola signed him for Man City after he got the better of Kyle Walker when he still played for Aston Villa.
High: He scored on both his Champions League and home Premier League debuts for City last season, but his most memorable contribution might be his starring role in the club’s title celebrations.
Low: It must have stung to be England’s most expensive player ever, and only come off the bench in the second leg of a Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid and then see them dramatically win the tie in extra time.
Manchester United: Paul Pogba (£89.3m from Juventus, August 2016)
5️⃣ years ago today, Stormzy announced the signing of Paul Pogba to #mufc.
🥶 Has there 𝒆𝒗𝒆𝒓 been an announcement video as good at this one? pic.twitter.com/ijFxwN8E8E
— UtdDistrict 🔰 (@UtdDistrict) August 9, 2021
In one of the first major transfers to command its own big-budget social media campaign, Pogba returned to Manchester United from Juventus in the summer of 2016 in a bold and brash PR whirlwind soundtracked by Stormzy.
That was possibly the loudest reception the France midfielder received during his second stint at Old Trafford following what was then a world-record transfer, with inconsistent performances and a brash persona contributing to him quickly being made one of several scapegoats for the club’s low ebb. Six seasons came and went at United with Pogba failing to win over his doubters though of course there was a smattering of stirring virtuoso cameos that were enough to convince some of his enduring quality.
With his contract running down last season, it was decided that it would be best for all parties that the 29-year-old World Cup-winner made a quiet exit, and sure enough he returned to Juventus on a free transfer in July, immediately after which he tore a meniscus in training and found himself ruled out for two months.
High: Scoring against Ajax in the Europa League final to lift the trophy under Jose Mourinho in 2016-17, thus capping off a double cup-winning season.
Low: Pogba’s abject performance against Liverpool in October 2021 that must surely go down as his worst night in a United shirt. After his side had conceded four goals in the first half, the midfielder came on at half-time but failed to make any impact whatsoever as Liverpool soon powered to a 5-0 lead. Just to rub further salt into the wound, Pogba was then sent off for a two-footed lunge on Naby Keita with an hour played at Old Trafford.
Tottenham Hotspur: Tanguy Ndombele (£60m from Lyon, July 2019)
✍️ We are delighted to announce the signing of Tanguy Ndombele from Olympique Lyonnais.
🇫🇷 The France international central midfielder has signed a contract with the Club until 2025.#WelcomeTanguy ⚪️ #COYS pic.twitter.com/5GhqGi1q5g
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) July 2, 2019
Richarlison will become Tottenham’s record signing once the club end up paying all the add-ons bundled into the Brazilian forward’s transfer from Everton, but until then Ndombele remains Spurs most expensive arrival.
Out of favour under almost every manager he played under, Ndombele made just 63 Premier League appearances in his three years at the club, scoring six goals. Indeed, the French midfielder found his inclusion limited to just three starts in all competitions after Antonio Conte was installed as head coach in November 2021.
Capable of precision distribution, excellent ball retention and barnstorming breaks from the middle of the pitch, Ndombele just wasn’t able to operate with enough consistency to convince any of the five managers he played under at Spurs of his ability. It’s perhaps little surprise that the 25-year-old was allowed to join Napoli on a season-long loan deal just over a week ago.
Last time v Sheffield United…
🤯 @TanguyNdombele #THFC ⚪️ #COYS pic.twitter.com/H2MEkZ6SSU
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) April 29, 2021
High: It’s hard to look beyond his brilliantly unorthodox wonder goal against Sheffield United.
Low: Failing to earn a single minute on the pitch for Spurs in the Premier League from Boxing Day 2021 onwards.