Hatem Ben Arfa was once again the spark in a somewhat disjointed Newcastle United performance during their previous league outing at home to Aston Villa last Sunday.
The mercurial forward has been the pick of the bunch so far this season for the magpies, despite an 11th hour return to pre-season training following a run-in with the French Football Federation in the fallout to Euro 2012, and hence only 45 minutes of Tuesday night football at Hartlepool under his belt. His name on the team sheet on the opening day of the season came as a pleasant surprise to many of the United faithful, and with the magpies’ squad looking thin after injuries to captain Fabricio Coloccini and ‘keeper Tim Krul during the international break, added to the already sidelined Danny Simpson, Ryan Taylor and Cheik Tiote, the Geordies will be hoping for another inspired performance again next time out.
His thunderous right footed equaliser against Aston Villa last week was reminiscent of his first strike (albeit with his left) on his full debut in a black and white shirt, coincidentally, against Monday night’s opponents Everton at Goodison Park. Back in September 2010, Alan Shearer infamously quoted that “we don’t really know much about him” following his move from Ligue 1 outfit Marseille. Well the same certainly cannot be said of him now – David Moyes and his troops are aware first hand of the threat he provides in Newcastle’s attack.
The day of Ben Arfa’s first strike for The Magpies was also the last time Newcastle collected all of the spoils at Goodison Park, in their inaugural “second coming” to the top flight following a season of rebuilding in the Championship. Despite it being back when Everton were notoriously slow starters, that win (along with a 6-0 home thrashing of Aston Villa) was one of the first indications to the supporters that their team might just make an impact back in the big time. Newcastle enjoyed great success during their season in the Championship, with many seeing it as a necessary cleansing exercise for a club that had been mismanaged from top to bottom for some years.
Despite the success, many fans were wary of how the players might cope back in the top flight; after all, this was largely the same group who were partially responsible for the clubs downfall in May 2009. Victory over Everton went a long way to confirming what many suspected; that those players had underperformed during their relegation season and were capable of much more.
Another of United’s current blue chip brigade made his full competitive debut at Goodison Park that day and, like Ben Arfa, it was another impressive performance from midfield enforcer Cheik Tiote. Tiote completed 46 of his 47 passes and made more tackles than any other Newcastle player, confirming his credentials as the holding midfielder Newcastle so desperately craved.
Tiote was alleged to be back in training following a calf problem sustained in the opening day win over Tottenham, however it has now been confirmed that he will be out of Monday’s clash against the Toffees. While this will doubtless be a massive blow to United’s chances, it opens up an opportunity to one of the magpies’ fringe players. If given the go ahead – much akin to Tiote back in September 2010 – Gael Bigirimana will make his first Premier League start following an impressive performance from the bench last time out, and fans will be hoping for another debut to remember.
Unlike 2010, Everton have started this season strongly, and would have to be favourites to claim all three points on Monday night. Newcastle will need some big performances from their players if they are to take anything from the game – a repeat of the guile and determination displayed in 2010 would provide Newcastle with more than a fighting chance.
And, just in case you’ve forgotten…
By Martn Gibson