Spending big on a player can be one of the best things a club ever does, but unfortunately, it can also end up being one of the worst, and Arsenal and Chelsea have found that out the hard way.
The clubs’ decisions to throw silly money at Nicolas Pepe and Kepa Arrizabalaga have completely blown up in their faces, and we’re now talking about two of the most high-profile flops in the history of football. That’s rough.
But which club made the bigger blunder? Let’s take a look.
There’s effectively nothing to separate these two when it comes to the cost of their respective moves to England.
Both set new club records, and neither really left their side in the lurch for the rest of the transfer market. Chelsea still brought in Jorginho during the summer and went on to shell out close to £60m on Christian Pulisic a few months later, while Arsenal splashed out on William Saliba, Kieran Tierney and David Luiz.
However, while Chelsea’s free-spending has continued, Arsenal’s has slowed right down. Money has become somewhat problematic at the Emirates Stadium in recent months, and the fact that the Gunners are still throwing money at Lille won’t be helping things.
Kepa: 54 apps, 23 clean sheets
Pepe: 42 apps, 8 goals, 10 assists
Another tough one here. Both players made an impressive impact in their debut season, and there was reason for both sets of supporters to be confident that their expensive signings would blossom into stars in England.
Pepe managed to pop up with crucial assists in both the FA Cup semi-final and final, the latter of which came at Chelsea’s expense, so he did manage to make a positive impact early on, but there was some disappointment that he didn’t replicate the form he managed at Lille, where his return of 23 goals and 12 assists made him the most in-demand winger around at the time.
As for Kepa, he led Chelsea to Europa League glory (coincidentally at Arsenal’s expense this time), making a number of top saves along the way, and he also helped inspire Chelsea’s run to third in the Premier League.
Loser: Maybe Pepe? Just
Kepa: 98 apps, 19 as unused sub
Pepe: 55 apps, 10 as unused sub
This one doesn’t look pretty for Kepa. When you splash out on a new goalkeeper, he’s supposed to play pretty much every minute available, with just the odd rotation when it comes to throwaway cup games.
It’s a lot more excusable for an outfield player to spend a bit of time on the bench. Rotation is normal and physical fitness needs preserving a little more. Pepe’s numbers are nothing to be ashamed about.
For Kepa, however, it’s a little rough. He’s been dropped on three separate occasions because of his poor form, and that’s usually fatal for any career.
Loser: Definitely Kepa
Kepa: 98 apps, 33 clean sheets
Pepe: 55 apps, 11 goals, 12 assists.
Granted, you can’t compare a goalkeeper to a forward when it comes to these kind of stats, but we’re going to anyway.
Pepe’s numbers are disappointing, but at least indicative of a decent Premier League player. If he cost £7.2m, or if he was playing for a team with less lofty ambitions, nobody would have any issues.
Unfortunately, for Kepa, a £7.2m price tag wouldn’t be enough to help him shy away from the fact that he’s managed just ten clean sheets in his last 44 games for Chelsea. That’s very, very bad.
If you think about all the moments that have left fans questioning why Kepa or Pepe is on their respective teams, you get some funny moments.
Kepa was meme-d to death after refusing to be substituted off in the League Cup final against Manchester City in 2019, and his countless costly errors in both big and small moments will live long in the memory for all the wrong reasons.
As for Pepe, his recent headbutt on Ezgjan Alioski wasn’t particularly smart, but most of the frustration comes from his failure to set the world on fire. He hasn’t made as many mistakes as Kepa, but his status as an outfield player helps him in that regard.
Chelsea have already moved on from Kepa. Sure, he’s still at the club, but he’s sat behind £22m-signing Edouard Mendy in the pecking order. It’s a little embarrassing for the Blues, but at least they have solved their problem, and given they finished fourth in Frank Lampard’s first season, it’s safe to say they avoided any major issues.
Arsenal haven’t solved anything, and there’s a good chance they might not be able to for a while.
The cost of the deal took almost everyone by surprise, and it’s forced Arsenal to be a little conservative when it comes to their spending elsewhere. They had no choice but to persist with Alexandre Lacazette and could only add Willian on a free (which is a disasterous signing for another day).
Will Arsenal spend big on somebody to replace Pepe? It’s hard to see that happening at the minute, and that’s a real concern.
The thing with Pepe is that he has been disappointing, but at least he has flashed glimpses of his quality. It’s been bad, but he hasn’t been comically, historically, record-settingly bad. There is a price point at which he wouldn’t be a problem.
Will Pepe go down as one of the Premier League’s worst-ever wingers? No.
Will Kepa be remembered as an all-time flop in between the sticks? Absolutely, and the honour of being the world’s most expensive player in his position won’t do him any favours. Every expensive goalkeeper signing will always be compared to him.
You can’t post some of the worst save percentages in Premier League history and escape with any form of positive reputation. Now that his time as a starter is over, there’s no way he can bounce back.
Neither of these players will be remembered fondly by fans of English football, but while there are still some positive memories of Pepe, the same can’t be said for Kepa.
Verdict: Kepa – and it’s not even close