While judgements and assessments of former Newcastle target and Europa League-winning Villarreal manager Unai Emery appear to have changed since his Arsenal sacking back in November 2019 – not many can question the emergence of one signing he recommended to the club on two separate occasions. Both of which were ignored. After two tumultuous seasons with Paris Saint-Germain, the Spanish tactician was keen on reuniting with one of his former players – Christopher Nkunku – in north London.
At the time, he was deemed to be one of the brightest young players coming through the ranks at the Parc des Princes and despite amassing 42 Ligue 1 appearances in two seasons, Nkunku’s chances of elevating his status from squad player to regular starter – ahead of the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria and Neymar – remained limited.
He was still appreciated by both Emery and his successor Thomas Tuchel but understandably, the majority of his appearances came from the bench and in cup competitions.
As a lover of football, Nkunku was simply keen to play regularly after a taste of first-team action and he was, therefore, willing to explore a move away from PSG.
In January 2019, half-a-season into his Arsenal tenure, Emery wanted to bring Nkunku to the Emirates Stadium as part of his ambitious project.
In the view of Emery, not all hope of signing Nkunku was lost and he believed Arsenal would get a second chance to land the Frenchman.
Various injuries at PSG meant Nkunku was handed more opportunities towards the end of the 2018/19 season as Tuchel’s side lifted the Ligue 1 title for a second successive season.
Once again, Emery would campaign for the signing of Nkunku in the Arsenal boardroom but his request fell on deaf ears.
In the background, RB Leipzig were wasting no time at all as they moved to conclude an undisclosed transfer (understood to be worth around £12.5m).
Arsenal’s stubbornness and reluctance to listen to Emery has now come back to haunt them dearly…
After nearly three years in Germany, Nkunku is now considered to be one of the most in-form players in all of world football.
The playmaker, who can play on either flank or centrally as a No 10 or second striker, has 20 goals and 13 assists in all competitions this season.
He is averaging over one goal involvement per game and also netted a hat-trick against Manchester City in this season’s Champions League group stages.
Nkunku is now valued at around £50m – four times the price Arsenal could have signed him for (£12.5m) had they listened to Emery.
There is also a feeling that Nkunku would have been the perfect fit for Mikel Arteta’s current Arsenal project.
He is technically gifted but also extremely productive in terms of registering goals and assists.
His versatility would also be of huge benefit to Arteta, who likes his forwards such as Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka to interchange.
The Gunners could still move to make amends for missing the boat with Nkunku by rivalling the likes of Manchester United and City for his signature this summer.
But ultimately, there are harsh lessons to be learned from the saga that has seen Arsenal fumble a glorious opportunity.
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