With Arsenal pulling Stade Rennais in the last 16 of the Europa League, it should perhaps be noted which of Unai Emery’s former adversaries dwells within the Ligue 1 side’s squad.
Hatem Ben Arfa fled to Rennes in September after his wretched two-year stint with PSG came to an unceremonious end. The precocious winger departed the Parc des Princes when his contract expired in July, having previously failed to make a single competitive appearance during the 2017-18 season.
At Emery’s discretion, Ben Arfa went an entire calendar year without playing – an anniversary he chose to pointedly mark by throwing himself a sarcastic little party.
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Having joined the club on the very same day in July 2016, Ben Arfa and Emery spent almost the entirety of their cohabitation at loggerheads with one another, with the latter quickly attaining ‘persona non grata’ status at the club.
Relations turned all the frostier when Ben Arfa openly criticised Emery in the wake of PSG’s catastrophic Champions League capitulation against Barcelona when the French side surrendered a 4-0 lead to get dumped out with a 6-5 aggregate defeat in the last-16.
France Football then claimed that Ben Arfa openly informed his arch-nemesis that Emery wouldn’t ever reach the latter stages of the Champions League, even with “the best team in the world”.
Emery returned the favour by denying Ben Arfa a Ligue 1 winners’ medal by refusing to play him despite the bit-parter only needing one more minute of first-team football to qualify for a keepsake.
At the end of the 2016/17 season, Ben Arfa was formally relegated to the reserves after joking with the actual Emir of Qatar that he was more accessible than PSG’s upper management.
The constant bickering continued over the summer and into 2017/18, with Ben Arfa supposedly baiting Emery by impersonating the Spaniard’s stilted attempts to learn French.
He also refused several arranged transfers to the likes of OGC Nice and Fenerbahce, preferring to mill idly around the fringes at PSG – much to his infuriated coach’s mounting chagrin.
Emery then left Paris to take over from Arsene Wenger at Arsenal in May 2018, with Ben Arfa following suit just a month or two later – the pair’s fortunes at the club seemingly intertwined despite quite clearly loathing each other.
So, thanks to UEFA, the star-crossed squabblers are set to reconvene next month, first at the Emirates and then again at Roazhon Park.
Would you be at all surprised to see Ben Arfa turning in one of his more energised, motivated performances against Emery’s Gunners? We certainly would not.
After all, that was always Ben Arfa’s problem – saving his best for whenever the bloody hell he felt like it.