Ian Holloway, who coached the Ivory Coast star when he was in charge at Crystal Palace, says he’s surprised they’ve moved the Lille star instead
Wilfried Zaha’s former manager Ian Holloway has suggested Arsenal have made the wrong choice in landing Nicolas Pepe instead of the Crystal Palace winger.
The Ivory Coast international produced one of his best seasons yet with Palace last term but he has been targeting a move to a Champions League club this summer.
Indeed, the Gunners had a £40 million ($50m) offer rejected by the Eagles who claimed the bid fell way short of their star man’s valuation.
Unai Emery’s side ultimately decided to switch their focus to Pepe, whom they have agreed a club-record £72m deal, leaving Zaha’s hopes of a move to the Emirates dashed.
“I am very surprised that Arsenal rate Nicolas Pepe better than Wilfried Zaha,” Holloway told Goal at the launch of EFL on Quest. “I certainly don’t. I would be very sad if I don’t ever see Wilfried Zaha playing in the Champions League.
“I feel he has been good enough for anyone in the world, including the teams that get there. At the moment Everton can’t get to the Champions League. There has been no wrong way to go about getting a move these days. I thought he had his best season ever last year.
“He has been starting to add the end product to his performances. He has been handled fantastically well by [Crystal Palace manager and assistant] Roy Hodgson and Ray Lewington. The experience that those two have got, they were smart enough to move him from one of the wide areas to be centre forward.
“If you leave him on his own with your last man when you are dominating the round ball then you can be in trouble if Palace win it back. So it has been all about end product with him, I always think ‘come on son, you can do that’. I see maturity in his play now.
“I believe at the very, very top level, if he plays with a team that can keep the round ball away from you, who also win it back very quickly and dominate a game [he’ll do well]. If you give him the round ball on the edge of the 18-yard box then he can win games, even for Manchester City.
“He would have to learn what the likes of Pep Guardiola want but I think he would [do well at the top level]. He has been good enough for any team in the Premier League now. I may be biased because I have seen him close at hand.
“He has been one I would pay to watch. He has been trying to shine and I have all the time in the world for him.”
Holloway also recalled the moment he first set eyes on Zaha during his time at Palace and how when he was told about the former Manchester United winger’s talents, he wasn’t sure he’d be as good as he has been.
“The first time I heard about Wilf was when I got the job,” Holloway added. “I stayed down near Palace with my wife at one of the director’s houses. He was telling me: ‘Have you seen Wilf? He has been brilliant’. I am sat at Palace having just managed Blackpool in the Premier League.
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“I didn’t say it out loud but I thought ‘I have had Tom Ince and Matt Phillips’. I thought those two were fantastic and Wilf wouldn’t be as good. The first game I saw him, he flicked the round ball over someone like he wasn’t there. He has still got it and still does it.
“He can do things with his brain that are on another level. His speed over a tackling distance has been as quick as I have ever seen. He will leave you and then you can’t get there. Palace fans have a song saying: ‘He’s just too good for you’. I didn’t believe that was true but I do now.
The first show of the 2019/20 season of EFL on Quest begins this Saturday, August 3 at 9pm. The only place to watch free-to-air highlights of the EFL has been on Freeview channel 12, Freesat channel 167, Sky channel 144 and Virgin channel 217. Go to https://www.questod.co.uk/