Touted as one of Europe’s best talents, NUFC were due to get their hands on a pure ‘wizard’ of the game, an exceptional French flair footballer from the bowels of the infamous Clairefontaine academy.
Hatem Ben Arfa’s debut at Newcastle started with the proverbial ‘bang’, with a glorious goal in a 1-0 away win to Everton. However, then came that Nigel de Jong tackle and Ben Arfa’s season was duly over. Alan Pardew knew exactly what he had at his new club acquisition and signed the playmaker in January 2010, and the black & white fans could not believe the talent their club was gaining.
Talk of No.10 roles and word class status over the summer, laid the expectations down for the young Frenchman, but on rehabilitating from his long lay off, Ben Arfa hasn’t had as fruitful a time as he, and probably all of NUFC, would have hoped.
A goal against Bolton, a wonder goal v Blackburn and a few cameos here and there; Hatem Ben Arfa has struggled to dig his way into Alan Pardew’s first team plans, deemed a little too ‘sporadic’ in his play and lacking the defensive discipline the team requires.
Of late though, NUFC have not been playing like the team that has seen them flourish to the dizzy heights they’ve reached in the Premier League this season. 2 hugely disappointing halves of football in the last 2 games have seen the Mags take just 2 points from 6 at home to opposition that would probably have been steamrollered earlier on in the campaign.
And, in both of those encounters, a certain Frenchman has shown his credentials and offered NUFC that little spark they seek to continue their progress over the final 11 hurdles of the season. Against Sunderland particularly, Hatem Ben Arfa manipulated the ball like no other player at Newcastle, at least, can do, constantly tormenting Sunderland’s Keiran Richardson to the point of his departure via substitution.
NUFC_Stats looked at the numbers for the enigmatic Frenchman so far…
It’s obviously not too fair to compare Ben Arfa to the other players at NUFC due to his limited pitch time, but the above graphic can give an indication as to what some of his strengths and weaknesses have been.
In terms of his pass completion, only 4 of the starting regulars have a better accuracy than HBA and his 78% is 1.5% above the team average.
One of the Frenchman’s best attributes has been his dribbling and no one at Newcastle currently produces more successful dribbles per game than him on average. At 1.7 per game, he is 0.2 better off than Jonas Gutierrez.
When it comes to crossing, most fans will tell you that he always seems to want that extra touch and doesn’t deliver as early as he could sometimes – because of that notion, he hasn’t produced as many as he should (0.1 per game) and his 7% cross accuracy is the worst of any player at the club.
However, when it comes to getting a shot off, only Demba Ba & Papiss Cisse from the starting regulars have more frequent shots a goal than Ben Arfa – he gets one off every 59 mins on average, although Shola and Dan Gosling do it a little better out of the non-regulars.
Finally, one stat not shown on the graphic is his tackling – he has thrown himself into 5 tackles this season in his 15 Premier League appearances, he has won 100% of them!
What the fans see
The above table shows the possession-based touches from NUFC players in the Premier League this season. For his time on the pitch, Hatem Ben Arfa’s numbers for unsuccessful touches and dispossession are relatively high and he has overran the ball less than only Jonas and equal to Obertan. HBA’s total losses of possession aren’t too healthy either; he loses possession 9.67 times on average per game, worsened only by 5 NUFC players.
Although Ben Arfa’s dispossession statistics aren’t the best, what he doesn’t do, is lose the ball in silly areas – that’s a misconception of his game. The above table shows HBA’s passing stats in his Premier League appearances this season.
In his own half, his passing percentage is 91% – 8 games he has produced a 100% passing record in Newcastle’s half of the field. It is further up the field where these dispossession numbers come into play. His loss of the ball via passing drops alongside his accuracy – 73% in the attacking half and 71% in the final third.
Where he works
From an attacking and creative point of view, the area in which the Frenchman works is the most vital and interesting part to his analysis. Last week’s article (NUFC: Goal scoring and creativity) highlighted the need for more innovative play in the final third and around the penalty area.
HBA’s aforementioned 71% final third passing accuracy is only bettered by Davide Santon, and is equalled by Gabriel Obertan, meaning when he gets the ball in there, there are few better at making things happen with it.
Against Sunderland, Hatem Ben Arfa wreaked havoc in this area.
The graphic shows where Ben Arfa picked up his 34 ‘receives’, showing just how attacking minded he is in getting on the ball. 19 of those 34 receives were in the final third of the pitch; 31 in the opposition’s half.
Relating back to the dispossession stats – even when Ben Arfa is tackled or has a bad touch, because of the area he generally takes possession in, the opposition is still left with a lot of work do before they hurt NUFC.
Once on the ball, that havoc for Sunderland really magnified! The above shows where HBA attempted his dribbles and that 7 out of the 10 he initiated were successful. But, the graphic shows just half the story.
Everyone who was either at the game or watched it via ESPN can have been only dumbfounded at the way he consistently breezed past Richardson – one in particular where he cut through two of Sunderland’s players with ease, using incredible skill and pace.
So, mercurial of maddening?
For the majority of his performances this season – both. For Wolves and more so Sunderland – MAJESTIC!
Hatem Ben Arfa is a world beater, there are no two ways about it. But, what he has to develop in his game is an adaptation to the English way of playing. He needs to be more meticulous in where he decides to initiate his ‘magic’ and concentrate on the basics when he is near halfway.
Once in the final third though, is it really a concern if he loses possession even 50% of the time? HBA does what others at NUFC don’t and that is continuously attack the full back. Jonas Gutierrez was once Newcastle’s best bet at doing it, but in Pardew’s more defensive standing outfit, he is now required to fulfil more a duty helping out at fullback and his attacking game has suffered.
At home in particular, Ben Arfa is absolutely imperative for Newcastle to continue their form and finish the season high placed. Pardew is not going to change his formation to suit the Frenchman, so a place on Newcastle’s flanks is where he should be settled for now. He has the pace and skill that full backs simply cannot handle, and his determination and persistence mean that regardless of his dribble’s/skill’s success, he will continually try to make things happen.
With Arsenal’s defensive record the way it is this season and considering his last performance, Ben Arfa simply must start against the Gunners on that right hand side – should Ryan Taylor suffer though? Probably not. Simpson however…