After a promising opening match against Atletico Madrid in the International Champions Cup competition in Singapore, now Unai Emery must come up against his former side Paris Saint Germain in another showpiece friendly.
Emery departed the Parisian club just prior before to taking over at from Arsene Wenger at Arsenal after 3 seasons at the helm in the Parc des Princes.
PSG installed former Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel as their new boss, so both clubs competing at the Singapore National Stadium are in transition, making the pre-season campaign of particular importance.
And while, due to the chop-and-change, non-competitive nature of exhibition games all results, good-or-bad should be taken with a pinch of salt, Emery’s start at the Gunners has been pretty positive.
The opening friendlies on home soil against Boreham Wood and Crawley Town were good integration experiments for new and young players, and the most recent game against Atletico Madrid gave a near-full squad an opportunity to run out against top European opposition.
The Atletico game ended 1-1 with the Spaniards then going on to win the match 3-1 on penalties. Undoubtedly the stand-out performer on the day was 17-year-old Eddie Smith Rowe who scored what ended up being Arsenal’s equalizer and impressing throughout.
Emery also gave action to new signings Bernd Leno, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Matteo Guendouzi but it was 17-year-old Smith-Rowe who took his chance with a fine individual goal.
Smith-Rowe’s goal was a fantastic marauding run that ended with a fine finish. The performance against the Europa League winners has no doubt rocketed the young attacking midfielder’s reputation with his new manager.
Smith-Rowe wasn’t the only teenager to impress – Reiss Nelson built upon the performances he gave when given a chance last season and new signing Guendouzi also impressed on the ball.
As is the case with these kind of fixtures, there were major overhauls to the line-up during the Atletico game with the starting line-up looking drastically different by the end of the match and the same can be expected of the PSG game.
This will be the first game of the tournament for Tuchel’s side, with the Ligue 1 winners playing against Atletico on the 30th of July – by which time, Arsenal will have returned to home shores ahead of an encounter with Chelsea at the beginning of August.
While Emery’s season promises to be a difficult one with so much change at the club, perhaps PSG are one side that can empathise with this plight.
Obviously, there are no such concerns in replacing a long-term manager, but with the financial resources behind PSG, it appears that European success has become the only marker of success for the club, with domestic wins seeming a foregone conclusion.
With this being the case, in a similar vein to Emery at Arsenal, Tuchel has had to make wholesale changes in an effort to put his own stamp on the team and turn them into prospective European contenders.
Perhaps the biggest change in the Paris squad so far this Summer is the acquisition of Gianluigi Buffon in goals. The Italian goal keeper ended a long tenure in Turin to join PSG, with the hope of finally tasting the European glory he came so close to in the past.
Speaking prior to the match, Emery spoke highly of his old club to the gathered press.
"I am very grateful to PSG, it was a good experience, a good moment in my career. Now we are going to play against a big, big club with big players.
"They won’t have every player on the pitch because they are on holiday, but for me it’s important for our preparation. It will also be nice for me to meet my friends who I worked with at Paris Saint-Germain.
"For us, it's about continuing our preparations. It's another match but we don't want to change our focus. Our focus is to get every player up to speed and work on tactical things to get better for when we start [Premier League] competition.
"They are two big clubs with a big history and big present. For me, this is different to other ties but for my work it's the same. It's demanding but very exciting to work this way."
The holidays that Emery mentioned applies to perhaps the biggest stars on show for the opposition, with Neymar yet to return from his post-World Cup break. This break also applies to the French stars, who will be getting an extended break after winning the World Cup, including stand-out star, 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe, who officially became a PSG player this Summer after technically being on-loan from Monaco last season.
Nonetheless, there will still be a host of world class talent on display that will make for a fine test for Emery’s team.
The Arsenal team is only missing Lucas Torreira and Danny Welbeck, meaning that generally speaking a full-team is available to select from, so newer tactics will be put into action. The aforementioned Smith-Rowe is perhaps the only injury worry, as he had to sit out training on Thursday due to a blister on his foot sustained in the Atletico game, but he is reportedly going to be available for Saturday.
One feels that, despite the games low-stakes, there will still be a desire for Emery to put one over on his old club. While the departure was relatively amicable, the need for peak successes at PSG due to the resources available made the manager’s job a hostile one at times. Even in a friendly game, he will be hopeful of defeating his former team with his new side.
Arsenal play Paris Saint Germain in the second match of the International Champions Cup pre-season tournament at the Singapore National Stadium on July 28th with kick-off at 12.35pm BST and 7.35pm local time.