It’s Rumour-mill: The Exit edition, going on at Arsenal  right now, if you believe all of the papers over the last 24 hours.  We’ve had Pepe off to Nice, Holding off to Aston Villa, although Hector Bellerin’s zero-price move to Betis appears to be going cold. I’ll avoid the final player in that trio, but here’s some thoughts on the possible exits of the other two lads.

Nicolas Pepe

There aren’t many people who still have any kind of faith in the Ivorian, least of all Mikel Arteta, but I’ve been holding out for long enough that there is a player in there and he could ‘click’. I think we all know it probably won’t be at The Arsenal though and so a loan move this season is probably the best for all parties. It’s unlikely anybody is going to cough up any decent change in him abroad and although he’s got a decent goal return when he has played – proving he can score goals in the Premier League – I don’t think there will be many Premier League suitors who would take him off our hands for actual cash.

So with two year’s left on his current  deal then the club are obviously minded to take a bit of a transfer tactical gamble on sending him away for a year to see if we can hold some value in the player next summer. It’s a gamble because that’s clearly what they wanted from Bellerin and Torreira and that is why they sanctioned loan moves last summer. But both of the clubs they went to then buckled on paying any kind of price and whilst one has gone for peanuts, the second will probably also go for peanuts, or less than peanuts. So offloading Pepe to Nice could be a gamble because  there’s just one year left on the players deal after this season and we could be in another situation of a highly paid player we can’t offload in 2023.

But the club have little choice if there are no permanent buyers out there and finding a club in France – where Pepe made his name as a ruthless counter-attacking  goal threat – is the best option we could probably hope for at this stage. Perhaps Nice can re-ignite his career, he can bag a whole raft of goals, then we have a player who is at least worth something in a years time. We wouldn’t get anywhere near what we paid for him, we  won’t even get half, but getting something at this stage would feel like a ‘W’.

It hasn’t got beyond the stage of speculation at the moment, but it feels so plausible that I’d expect one or two names of French clubs to pop up in the next week and I suspect the player will be donning another shirt come 1st September. It should have been a match made in heaven but it never quite worked for him and the overly-inflated price that “Don Raul” paid for him has proven to be another example of how Sanllehi turned  out to be an absolute footballing charlatan.

Big Bob Holding

Villa have just lost their expensive centre half they bought from Sevilla – Diego Carlos  – and that must mean they are back in the market again for another one and that’s why this link has cropped up. You can understand it; Holding is a good, clean, honest pro, well liked at Arsenal and is an archetypal rugged centre half from England; in other words put him in a penalty box and let him head out balls all day long. Put him in a deep lying defence and he is a strong man in duals. But put him in a foot race and you have a world of problems. For a club that is going to sit deeper and spring traps Rob Holding  would be an excellent player. For a club that is going to press high and win the ball back higher up the pitch, also squeezing the horizontal lines between attack, midfield and defence, it exposes him slightly. If he has to play on the halfway line then he’s in trouble and if he’s asked to deliver longer ball passing, his range has been something I personally have maligned for many years.

But if Villa are looking for a solid pro solution, he’d be a good fit. The only question is whether Arteta would be prepared to sanction that. He’s currently fourth choice and not getting a sniff right now, but when the Europa League and domestic cups kick in, he’ll be given minutes for sure. There’s also an argument for having him available for those days in which we’re  under the kosh and needing a deep-lying defender to nod ball after ball away.

From my perspective I’ve flipped on Holding from “let’s just get some money for him and move on”, to “useful to have around” and a lot of that has to do with the fact he’s now fourth choice behind Saliba, White and Gabriel. If you’re looking at bringing some money in and Holding is an option to get something north of £10 – £15million, then it might be worth thinking about, but it does mean we  could be left a little light. You can argue that we have Tierney and Tomiyasu to add to our first three players in at centre half mentioned above, but the problem there is that a) both are injury prone, and b) they are also cover for other positions. So if you have an injury crisis like we had last season, you are back to square one if you don’t have that extra body in. Think the Newcastle game where we effectively had to patch up Tomiyasu and Gabriel, with Tierney also injured. This season that same game has White at right back, Saliba and Holding at centre half and Zinchenko at left back if the same players are injured (and I think it is fairly obvious Gabriel wasn’t right at centre half). We don’t need to take as many risks with players at the moment because we have the depth. But if you take Holding out then you are back to patching up players like we did with Gabriel up at St James’ Park.

So for me it is a question on what Villa are prepared to offer. We don’t need to sell, they need to buy, if they want him they can cough up proper cash. Simple as that.

And just like that, i’m done for the day. Enjoy your Wednesday and I’ll be back tomorrow with some more thinkings.