Born in the suburbs of Paris, a lot was expected from Hatem Ben Arfa upon signing for his boyhood club last summer. The France international was coming off one of his best seasons at OGC Nice and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic leaving for Manchester just prior to his arrival, some speculated whether or not Ben Arfa could end up being an unlikely replacement for Paris Saint-Germain’s all-time leading scorer. As it turned out, Ben Arfa’s season couldn’t have been further off that mark.
A meager return of 4 goals and 7 assists from 32 appearances was a disappointment to say the least. The man who had led Nice to a fourth place finish one year prior with 17 goals and 6 assists in the league, looked a shadow of his former self and simply couldn’t get on track in the French capital.
It’s fair to say that Unai Emery wasn’t exactly keen on Ben Arfa when the signing was officially announced. As soon as the season started, arguments over which member of the club’s hierarchy wanted the player–as well as the majority of last summer’s signings–began. Ben Arfa was used sparingly by the Spaniard at the start of the season and eventually dropped out of the squad in the first half of the season before eventually working his way back into the team in a true sign of professionalism. However, he never truly succeeded in winning over Emery.
Ben Arfa’s issues with fitness and his lack of work rate compared to Emery’s other options on the wings and in midfield made it quite hard for the manager to fit the player in his squad. In the second half of the season though, it seemed like the former Sevilla FC manager had finally found a place for Ben Arfa in his team–fielding him as a false 9 in place of Edinson Cavani on occasion in the domestic cup competitions. This was a role in which the Frenchman had some degree of success as he scored three of his four goals in the Coupe de France. However, Cavani’s superb form in front of goal meant Ben Arfa couldn’t enjoy long spells in the team to make the case for his inclusion in the starting lineup.
Ultimately, it was the combination of the player and manager that never looked like yielding fruit. Claude Puel, who managed Ben Arfa at Nice, had this to say about the controversial player:
I have not seen Hatem in action since he last played for me, but he needs a system that suits him better on the pitch for a start. In my opinion, he is a match player and not one for training. If he is not playing, then his physical condition can deteriorate too.–Claude Puel, Bleacher Report
Given the way the season ended for Paris (finished second to AS Monaco), Ben Arfa no doubts feels he could have helped the team more in achieving its goals. The player released a video on social media (shortly after the 6-1 thrashing at the hands of FC Barcelona in March) where he demanded that he be given more playing time. The ill-timed move was unlikely to get him out of the manager’s dog house and he didn’t feature again for the rest of the season with what was reported to be a virus infection.
Now that the season is over, you can’t blame Emery for not giving Ben Arfa special treatment, or changing the system to suit the player’s needs, especially given the pressure that was on the Spaniard and the fact the 30-year-old wasn’t exactly dishing out world-class performances when given the minutes.
To his credit, Ben Arfa behaved in a rather professional manner throughout the difficult season. It was through his Instagram where he unleashed one cryptic message after another. In one of the latest posts, Ben Arfa can be heard saying “See you in July.” It looks very much like the player will leave the club this summer but what exactly his future holds is a mystery for now.