What constitutes a good season at Paris Saint-Germain? No-one really knows. Anything short of winning the Champions League and your head is on the chopping block.
Unai Emery, the man who replaces Arsène Wenger at Arsenal, found that out this summer.
Very rarely do managers leave a club on their own terms, even the Frenchman found out the hard way, but in France, Emery left the club with five domestic trophies – seven if you count the glorified friendly that is the Trophée des Champions.
The biggest blot on his report card was failing to progress in Europe’s elite tournament. No-one will every forget the famous collapse at the Nou Camp, but Gunners fans should concentrate more on the stunning 4-0 win at the Parc des Princes, perhaps the best performance the French side have managed in the competition.
Losing to Real Madrid and their Spanish rivals in any form is far from embarrassing. Success shouldn’t be measured in what stage you get knocked out, but by the manner in which you compete against the best.
Laurent Blanc fell by the sword when his team limped out disappointingly to Manchester City in 2016. Emery’s team showed more enterprise, but still not enough to really challenge the big boys.
Hired on his successful record in the Europa League, it’s hard to fully judge his time in Paris.
On arrival, he tried to change things up by moving away from Blanc’s possession-based game. If you go back to 2016 and watch their 4-1 demolition of Lyon in Austria, you’ll see a free-flowing, counter-attacking 4-2-3-1 formation which tore Bruno Genesio’s team to pieces.
Yet, after Monaco handed them a 3-0 thumping down in the principality, the senior players revolted and demanded they go back to the 4-3-3 which they found more comfortable.
Although it worked in Ligue 1, it was never built for success in Europe. Once the Spaniard was handed Neymar and Kylian Mbappé for a future total of €366million, the formation was set and there was no way he would be able to put his own stamp on the Parisians.
“Emery sees himself as a footballing philosopher, who has been unable to truly express himself tactically over the past few years, which should mean that he experiments a lot more with the Gunners than he ever did with PSG,” ESPN’s Jonathan Johnson told Football Whispers.
“He will undoubtedly feel motivated to prove that things could have been different in Paris had the squad bought into his methods.”
After success on a limited budget at Valencia and Sevilla, it almost like Emery needed the experience of not getting his own way – even if the purse strings were looser than they have ever been before – which should help him find the right balance at the Emirates.
“Emery, like Wenger, is a gentleman,” continues Johnson. “He is knowledgeable, approachable and handled himself admirably in the face of intense criticism with PSG. His time with the French champions will have prepared him well for the challenge of the Arsenal pressure cooker.”
Mikel Arteta had looked set to replace Wenger and Gunners fans were coming round to the idea of a new way of thinking, another managerial gamble, just like Wenger was 22 years ago, but if the former midfielder was a gamble, Emery is the safe choice.
“I don’t think we will see another example of when Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United and David Moyes came in,” said Andreas Karlsson, PSG writer for SvenskaFans. “Emery is a safe bet for the Europa League places and with a club like Arsenal, he can take them to a Champions League spot.
“The guy is obsessed by football and will give everything he has for the club he’s working for, he certainly won’t cheat them one bit.”
The former Almeria coach doesn’t need a huge transfer kitty, he actually works better without it; the list of players he improved in La Liga reads like a who’s who of the Spanish game over the last ten years. He works with what he has, he doesn’t make outlandish demands and has a track record for improving the pieces he is given.
This is not to say that he’s perfect by any means. Despite having his hands tied by the powers that be in Paris, he doesn’t leave the French capital blameless.
“Despite the five trophies, Emery’s time at PSG was not successful,” Jeremy Smith of French Football Weekly told Football Whispers. “He lost the title to Monaco last season and limped out of the Champions League to Barcelona and Real Madrid.
“While most of PSG’s faults were not directly his fault, but that of Nasser Al-Khelaifi, Emery should share some responsibility.
“Had he been more forceful and more able to stand up to Al-Khelaifi above him and Neymar, Thiago Silva etc below him, he may have gained more respect, more influence and more success.”
After two years, the 46-year-old leaves France with a record of 113 games managed, 87 wins, 14 draws and just 12 defeats. Yet, it’s the loses which he’ll be remembered for more.
“All the basic tools are there,” Jeremy continues. “Emery just needs to have people – including himself – give him the chance to use them. And at Arsenal he is much more likely to be given those opportunities than at PSG.
“Both the Gunners and Emery have had a couple of off-years but both have proven their class in the past. There are potential pitfalls, but they should be able to help each other back on track.”