That’s according to Sky Sports reporter Dharmesh Sheth, who says Gunners boss Unai Emery was ‘enamoured’ by the Crystal Palace star’s performance at the Emirates last season.
Arsenal have surprised many by supposedly looking to smash their club-record transfer on Pepe this summer, with reports previously suggesting they had a mere £40m to spend on new players.
Yet it was also highly unexpected because the north London club have been heavily linked with Zaha over the past few weeks.
The Ivory Coast international’s brother recently revealed that his sibling has set his sights on a move to Arsenal, but it is difficult to envisage Zaha securing his dream switch if they break the bank for Pepe.
“Unai Emery has basically been enamoured by Wilfried Zaha when Zaha came to the Emirates last season in April”
However, speaking prior to the news that Arsenal have agreed a deal for Pepe, Sheth insisted Zaha was Emery’s primary transfer target.
“Zaha is the No.1 target. Unai Emery has basically been enamoured by Wilfried Zaha when Zaha came to the Emirates last season in April, scored, assisted and he was like ‘this guy can change a game in the matter of seconds’,” he said on Sky Sports’ Transfer Talk podcast.
“Arsenal haven’t publicly said what their transfer budget is. But significantly, they’ve never questioned the media, like ourselves or the newspapers, when they’ve put it out there that it’s around £45m that they’ve got to spend this summer.
“I reckon Arsenal think it’s in their interests for people to think it’s £45m so that when they go in for players they can say ‘look, this is how much we can afford.’
“Cheeky, yes, because Crystal Palace aren’t gonna go for anything less than £80m. So then you think how can this deal be done?
“I just think Arsenal have to be slightly more creative in the way that they do their deals.
“What they’ve done so far is pretty clever as well though. If you look at Dani Ceballos, he’s a highly-rated player, Spain Under-21s, was instrumental in helping them win the Under-21 European Championships, sees his long-term future at Real Madrid, only wants to go on loan because he wants first-team football.
“So Arsenal will only have to pay a loan fee and we don’t know what the situation is with regards to the wages. Are Real Madrid paying a portion of those wages as well?
“So the majority of that transfer budget is not being used up on Dani Ceballos.
“Then you see [William] Saliba, as well. He’s joined, he will go back to Saint-Etienne for next season, but Arsenal will not have to outlay any of their transfer budget because the payments are not due until next summer. So there will be a new budget that will kick in.
“I just think Arsenal, what they’re trying to do at the moment is, they’re not in the Champions League for the third season in a row, so they are deciding ‘how do we get back into that Champions League as quick as possible so that we can have a bigger budget for transfers?’
“So what they’re trying to do is bringing in a player like Ceballos, he will help us get Champions League. And if he helps us get Champions League, yes, we’d love to keep him, but he’d have done a job.”