Zaha, Maguire and Partey: Inside Arsenal’s 2019 Transfer Window – Failed Targets and Lost Leaders

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This piece is part of a larger work on Unai Emery – soon to be published in its entirety here on Gunners Town.

Arsenal’s Champions League aspirations went up in flames. Torched by Wilfred Zaha, the dynamic forward brushed by Shkodran Mustafi with ease. As Zaha sped by, he scored his side’s second goal.

On a sunny April afternoon in 2019, Crystal Palace stubbornly dented Arsenal’s Champions League dreams. Zaha’s imperious display that day convinced Unai Emery to pursue the high-flying star.

Zaha formed a triumvirate of talented targets eyed by the Spaniard. Alongside Harry Maguire and Atlético Madrid’s Thomas Partey, Emery intentions were to reinforce Arsenal’s spine with three high quality acquisitions.

In May of 2019, he visited the Estadi Ciutat de València. In attendance for a match between Atlético Madrid and Levante, he personally scouted his primary midfield target. Thomas Partey.

Convinced of the Ghanaian midfielder’s quality, Emery was eager to sign him. Likewise, he hoped to sign Leicester City’s Harry Maguire. An English defender with a high reputation, Maguire was sought after by both Manchester City and Manchester United at the time.

Arsenal’s funds proved tight however. By a cruel twist of fate, Emery was denied each of his targets.

Forced to settle for a cut price David Luiz, the former Paris Saint Germain coach watched as Arsenal were unable to afford both Thomas Partey and Wilfred Zaha.

Emery has since revealed, “I favoured someone who knew the league and wouldn’t need to adapt. Zaha won games on his own: Tottenham, Manchester City, us. Incredible performances.”

Emery communicated his desire to sign Zaha to the Arsenal board, “I told them: ‘This is the player I know and want.’ I met Zaha and he wanted to come.”

Arsenal’s board and their manager shared different views on the matter, which resulted in Arsenal signing another Ivory Coast international instead. “The club decided Pépé was one for the future. I said: ‘Yes, but we need to win now and this lad wins games.’ He beat us on his own.”

Crystal Palace demanded a king’s ransom for Zaha. Which Emery acknowledged. “It’s also true he was expensive and Palace didn’t want to sell,” Overruled by the Arsenal board, Emery had one final comment to make on the Zaha saga.

“There were a series of decisions that had repercussions.”

A disturbing reflection of Arsenal’s transfer window for the 2019/20 season. Club Captain Laurent Koscielny left, Petr Čech retired, Nacho Monreal would leave later in the window and Aaron Ramsey had already joined Juventus.

Four experienced players and leaders were let go, and none were replaced. As the club lost a significant number of their Captain’s group, the squad was left devoid of leadership.

Since the devastation of his departure, Emery recalled the loss of his four dressing room leaders, in an interview with The Guardian.

“Ramsey had decided he was going. It would have been better for the team if he had continued, and for me. Petr Cech was retiring; fine. But I wanted Laurent Koscielny to stay, Nacho Monreal to stay. All those leaders went, which makes the dressing room something else.”

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