Despite doing relatively little, it would seem that Hatem Ben Arfa has established himself as somewhat of a fan favourite on Tyneside.
Yet having struggled to cement a starting role under manager Alan Pardew, and with the recent signing of Papiss Demba Cissé from Bundesliga outfit SC Freiburg, will the Hatembomb now see his career at Newcastle United thrown into turmoil?
Despite having recently deployed Ben Arfa more regularly on the right side of midfield, Pardew has never made a secret of the fact that he does not see the ex-Marseille man as a winger. Therefore implying that he would prefer to see the Frenchman act as play-maker in behind a striker, which wouldn’t normally be a problem. However, the Toon chief now seems almost certain to field a 4-4-2 formation that will be headed by Senegalese duo Demba Ba and Papiss Cissé, leaving one to wonder just where HBA will fit into his plans.
“My view is that he can’t play out wide. He has not got the relish for it and his best football comes through the middle.” – This quote is taken from an AP interview in October. Yet lately we seem to be seeing Hatem used more frequently on the right side in place of the faltering Gabriel Obertan. Does this suggest that the gaffer has had a change of heart? I doubt it. Personally, I believe that Pardew will always see Ben Arfa as an out and out no.10, leaving the French international with little chance of tying down his preferred starting role while wearing our famous Black and White.
A lot of Toon fans may look at this situation and see it as a blessing. Suggesting that having a player of Ben Arfa’s capabilities struggling to cement a starting role can only be good for the team and that having competition within a squad is always healthy. Both of which are points that I’d normally agree with. My main concern here, though, is that wherever Hatem has gone in his career, he has always been shadowed by claims of an attitude problem. Claims that have now seen him dubbed as somewhat of a liability and blamed for causing unrest at previous clubs. This is something that I’m sure owner Mike Ashley will strive to avoid happening at our club again, after only recently instigating the exit of big characters such as Joey Barton to QPR and Kevin Nolan to West Ham in the summer.
One thing is for sure, if Ben Arfa is to stay with us for many years to come then something has to change. A player capable of such wizardry with the ball at his feet will not simply make do with playing out of position or a place on the bench every week. A player with such talents will sooner or later demand a starting spot in order to pursue ambitions of consistently playing international football.
Hatem Ben Arfa is a player held in high regard across the whole of Europe and if Newcastle United don’t find a use for his talents, I fear that another club will.