Paris Saint-Germain’s teething problems under Unai Emery continued as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Saint-Etienne – and a similar performance when they meet Arsenal on Tuesday will surely only result in a defeat.
Lucas Moura’s penalty seemed to have the Ligue 1 champions – so utterly dominant domestically last season – on their way to an unconvincing win, yet arch-poacher Robert Beric snatched an equaliser in stoppage time.
PSG might have moved level with Guingamp, Monaco and Nice at the summit of Ligue 1 on seven points, but it was no way for the hosts to prepare for a huge match against the Gunners.
That fixture is already being billed as a potential play-off for top spot in Group A, but while PSG have outperformed Arsene Wenger’s side in recent seasons in the Champions League, they do not currently look a side capable of making the last eight, let alone winning the title. Indeed, even their ability to win the French championship will come into question if they continue to play at such a mediocre standard.
Rarely did they look cohesive on Friday night and aside from a handful of moments of inspiration from Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi, there was little but a Lucas Moura penalty for the home fans to get excited about.
While Matuidi ridiculed the club’s dithering over whether he should be retained with a typically energetic and dynamic performance, the lacklustre nature of PSG’s overall display was alarming ahead of such a vital fixture and typical of the way they have started the season.
In particular, the forward three of Lucas, Hatem Ben Arfa and Jese were ineffective, with the Spaniard finding life particularly tough on the occasion of his first Ligue 1 start. With Edinson Cavani barely offering a credible threat in the early weeks of the season, there was little to unease even Arsenal’s notoriously fragile defence ahead of their trip to the French capital in midweek.
Angel Di Maria will come back into the side and has a greater capacity to cause trouble, yet the void left by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s departure to Manchester United is increasingly evident.
And it is not just in attack where Emery has problems.
His system has been predicated on the full-backs getting forward to provide width and even a direct threat to goal. At half-time, the Spaniard saw Layvin Kurzawa – still remarkably his top scorer this season – replaced with an injury. With fellow left-back Maxwell also sidelined – and, in any case, bereft of competitive action this season – it might be left to Presnel Kimpembe to fill that role as a stop-gap measure.
Stronger opposition might have exploited the patchwork nature of PSG’s defensive line even more ruthlessly in the second half of Friday’s encounter.
Thiago Motta, a defensive midfielder by trade, was forced to play at the heart of the defence following the reshuffle, leaving Marquinhos as the only first-choice rearguard option on the pitch.
Thiago Silva should be back by Tuesday, but he has not played a single minute of league football yet this term. Indeed, it is entirely plausible that PSG line up against Arsenal with a defence that has started a combined total of just two matches this term. As it stands, PSG have just three fit defenders and no left-back.
Emery can continue to argue that this is a side in transition, but it currently seems that he is paying for a mismanaged summer.
Defeat against Arsenal – something that seems a distinct possibility based on the evidence of PSG’s Ligue 1 form – would only add weight to that theory and to the problems of a side toiling desperately to find its championship-winning rhythm.
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