Should Pardew give Hatem ‘Arfa’ Chance?

Hatem Ben Arfa, the temperamental 24-year old Frenchman, has had a mixed time on Tyneside since making the journey across the English Channel 18 months ago. Having spent a large part of last season on the treatment table following a horrific leg break at Manchester City, the midfielder has struggled to impress in a high-flying Newcastle side this term. His failure to nail down a place in the starting 11 begs the question, should Alan Pardew be opting to select the French International more often?

Firstly there is no doubting the mercurial talent that is Ben Afra who possesses trickery, brilliant dribbling skills and the ability to unlock even the most resolute of defences. Technically gifted, it is no surprise Ben Arfa is a graduate of the prestigious Clairefontaine academy in his native France, with other notable alumni being Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and William Gallas.

Prior to his move to Newcastle United, Ben Arfa was regarded as one of the best prospects in French football having represented his homeland at every level and has bagged two goals in 8 appearances at senior level. He also has 5 French Ligue 1 titles to his name with four of them coming from his time at Olympic Lyonnais and the last during his years at Marseille as well as 2 French cups.

 Now with that being said why hasn’t he hit it off in the Premier League? And more importantly why can’t he get into the Newcastle United’s current starting eleven?

 It’s easy to simply blame the injury he sustained in the last campaign but in light of this, there is no evidence to suggest his style of play has been altered by the double tibia and fibula break. For example his pace is present, his ability to weave in-and-out of opposition players remains prominent and his skill is there for all to see. Wonderful solo goals against Blackburn Rovers and a clinical finish versus Bolton Wanderers this season have reminded the Toon Army exactly what an inspired Ben Arfa can bring to the table in their push for European football. However these moments along with his speculative strike on his full debut at Goodison Park in August 2010 have been disappointingly few and far between.  

Alan Pardew’s decision to set his Newcastle side up to play with caution in the wind has ultimately come at the expense of Ben Arfa, who tactically is considered as a luxury player. Unfortunately for Ben Arfa this decision has proven successful with the Magpies currently occupying 5th position in the Premier League ahead of the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool. Defensive solidity has been key to some of Newcastle’s most impressive results this season, a memorable draw at Old Trafford and a resilient win at Stoke spring to mind.

For such an attack minded midfield player it is has proven difficult for Ben Arfa to adapt to the teams style of play, with this man you aren’t going to get somebody who will track back or who will be the first to spot an unmarked player but what you will get is unpredictability and cutting edge, that extra bit of quality needed in the final third to secure a vital win. It seems Alan Pardew see’s in the player somebody who as an impact substitute can make all the difference but isn’t tactically disciplined enough start week in week out for Newcastle.

Perhaps if Newcastle were not performing so well the calls for Ben Arfa’s inclusion would be warranted, considering with just 3 goals he is Newcastle’s 3rd highest scorer in a side that has relied largely on talisman Demba Ba this season. But in just 5 league starts his goal return of 3 with as many assists doesn’t seem bad at all.

Ben Arfa’s pass and move demeanour is well suited to the fast paced English Premier League with sides such as Arsenal and Swansea’s philosophies incorporating these ideas. Ben Arfa has made vocal his desire to play this style of football despite Alan Pardew’s insistence to play a more direct game involving crossing.

So what does the future bring for Hatem Ben Arfa? Perhaps influential performances on a more regular basis will give Alan Pardew food for thought. However if things don’t change surely a transfer would beckon, but one thing’s for sure you will not hear too many Newcastle fans complaining give their sides current form.

@simonblaquiere Simon Blaquiere

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