Arguably the man of the match from the mauling of Stoke City, Hatem Ben Arfa once again found himself reduced to the familiar role of a substitute for the visit of Arsenal. With the Magpies entering 2014 in an optimistic mood, the New Year looks far less rosy for the talented fan favourite.
Newcastle’s run of seven victories in their last ten fixtures has demonstrated and perhaps vindicated Pardew’s preference for Gouffran and Sissoko in the wide areas. The selection of these two defensively astute players is clearly to compensate for the attacking tendencies of Debuchy and Santon, a role which Ben Arfa is evidently not suited to. With the team sitting close to the top of the form table, there is also an obvious reluctance to tinker with a successful formula.
However, Pardew’s uncertainty over the player extends beyond the last couple of months. In his time at Newcastle, Ben Arfa has been deployed in numerous positions and only rarely secured a sustained run in the first eleven. Injuries haven’t helped but whether it is as a false nine, a number ten or a wide player, the Frenchman seemingly hasn’t done enough to convince his manager. Glimpses of match-winning brilliance cannot disguise the difficulty Pardew has continually faced in accommodating the player into the side.
As a fan favourite, any prospective departure from St. James’ Park would be greeted with mass disapproval. No such transfer has even been mooted as of yet. However, with Newcastle’s publically known financial limitations and the player’s personal ambitions, it is hard to envisage a long term scenario where Ben Arfa can merely remain as a luxury substitute. A reasonable offer for a player currently outside the first eleven could tempt Pardew to cash in with the intention of reinvesting.
With the January window opening in a World Cup year, it is surprising that the future of one of the club’s most prized assets hasn’t been speculated upon. With all of the transfer talk currently focused on Cabaye, the situation surrounding Ben Arfa seems to have slipped under the radar. Injuries or a drop in form could see the winger restored to the first eleven sooner rather than later. For now though, Ben Arfa’s spell on the sideline looks set to continue into the New Year.
By Chris Knight, FanZone’s Newcastle blogger. Don’t forget to follow @FanZone for links to all the latest blogs.