How do you solve a problem like Ben Arfa?

Posted on November 15th, 2011 | 38 Comments |

Hatem Ben Arfa: Not a winger says Pardew, but is he a singer?
Ben Arfa: Not a winger says Pardew, but is he a singer?
Of course, Newcastle United are still riding high, still undefeated in the Premier League so far with Alan Pardew seemingly sticking steadfastly to an “if it ain’t broke, dont fix it!” philosophy in our Premiership campaign.

Obviously, when a team which should be nestling somewhere the middle of the table is actually third it’s hard to argue. As Napoleon Bonaparte once said (or wrote, I’m not sure), “Success is the most convincing talker in the world”. This is certainly true, at least for the moment, in Pardew’s case; though as we already know, he could blather for England anyway! However, even in the midst of success, there are always problems to be solved, and one of Pardew’s is how does he solve a problem like Hatem Ben Arfa?

He is undoubtedly one of the most talented players we have, on the ball he is almost certainly THE most talented. However, since finally returning from his double injury nightmare with his appearence against Nottingham Forest in the League Cup, he has only made four fleeting substitute appearences in the Premiership (out of six games).

Although Ben Arfa has been seen primarily as a left sided player in the past, he is also highly versatile, having the abilty to play right across the centre of the park from left flank through central midfield to right flank, and also potentially as a “trequartista” (three quarter) style Number 10 player like Maradona, Zidane, Pele and several others who have been hailed as all time greats of the game. However Pardew seem’s to go against conventional wisdom about the player’s talents on the flanks, seemingly seeing him more exclusively in that most glamourous of positions, the very highly gifted tecnnical player who can bridge the gap between midfield playmaker and forward.

Pardew has made several pronouncements on this issue including:

“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.” and:

“To me, Hatem Ben Arfa is a number ten.

“I won’t play him on the side. I don’t think he wants to play there, I don’t think he enjoys playing there and therefore my gut feeling is that footballers won’t play their best if they’re not happy in the position they’re in.”

Looking at things from Pardew’s side, though Ben Arfa has mostly been described as a “winger” in the past, this has usually meant as the left sided attacking player in a 4-3-3 formation as opposed to what many people would describe as a “true” winger. There has also being something of a defensive element to Pardew’s first choices in the wing department, Jonas Gutierrez and Gabriel Obertan, with Guti in particular earning much deserved praise for his tracking back and his ability to work in harmony with the left back, whether it’s Ryan Taylor or Jose Enrique before him. Of course, Joey Barton also had a strong defensive element to his game when he was playing on the right flank too. Defence certainly isn’t the strongest element of Ben Arfa’s play, and it isn’t supposed to be either.

On the other hand, he certainly didn’t look too shabby against Everton, when he scored one of the goals of the season, the goal which gave us three points against the Toffees in an otherwise tight game. Going back to the other side though, he did cut in to a more central midfield position quite often, including for the above mentioned wonderstrike. However his fellow fancy Frenchman, Yohan Cabaye certainly seems to have the central playmaking role nailed down currently, formimg a considrable partnership with Ivorian hatchet man, Cheik Tiote. One other factor is that unlike Ben Arfa, Cabaye also has a more defensive side to his game too. Despite this, it should also be noted that when Tiote had to withdraw through injury, his place was taken by Danny Guthrie, a respectable “box-to-box” 4-4-2 Johnny English type who, like Cabaye, can get stuck in if necessary.

It could be said that whilst the current pairing upfront, Demba Ba and Leon Best, have been a good pairing, helping each other out with some good hold up, link play and the odd assist where necessary, it is still a completely different situation to having Ben Arfa playing trequartista with a solitary hitman. It is arguable that Pardew would indeed have to change the whole structure / formation of the team to fit him in a more regular role while he steadfastly refuses to employ him in on one of the flanks, or disrupt the central midfield “A-Team” pairing of Yohan “face man” Cabaye and Cheik “Mr.T” Tiote. It would involve moving to something like a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 formation which would still employ the dynamic duo. Which brings us back to the beginning, Pardew’s “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach.

So the paradox remains: Ben Arfa is quite simply too good a player to leave out for too long, but if Pardew slips him in and our so far unbeaten record slips, it will be on his head. So it will probably be a downturn in our fortunes results wise, something that is highly likely bearing in mind our next three opponents (Man City, Man United and Chelsea) which finally force Pardew’s hand. Time will tell.


NUFCBlog Author: workyticket workyticket has written 1093 articles on this blog.

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38 Responses

  1. If Best is injured, the true choices are HBA or Ranger. I can’t see Lovenkrands or Sammy dealing with the chaos in the middle. If Ranger has his head on right (keep in mind the troubles with the law occurred prior to his getting back into the team) then let him knock heads till he wears out. Then bring on Benny to dazzle.

  2. summerof69 says:
    November 15, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    “lukeymoore Lukey Moore
    Scott Carson’s distribution tonight has been like a blind man at a bukkake party.”

    69, could you please explain to me what “bukkake” means? Is it some kind of Japanese delicacy?

    As you can probably see, I’ve banged a few Ben Arfa vids in as well now.

  3. pardew at this stage should really consider giving benny a start with best struggling for fitness. if he doesn’t expected to see a toy or two been thrown and no one likes seeing an angry ben arfa. also doesn’t help when newcastle are being linked with every midfielder in France then ben arfas chances in the team would look pretty slim

  4. also adding now that obertan and Marveux are injured pardew may have no other choice then to put ben arfa on the wing…might as well use his resources

  5. I suppose part of the problem is that Ba likes to come deep, so in reality we need Best because he plays further up the pitch so the worry is we could end up with 6 in midfield and no one upfront.

  6. summerof69 says:
    November 15, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    I was only joking Summer. I know what it means, sadly, and “Pearl necklace” too. Messy business.

    I’ve embedded that video you posted in the blog itself now. Cheers once again!

  7. summerof69 says:
    November 15, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    “I suppose part of the problem is that Ba likes to come deep”

    Are you gannin’ on about “Bukkake” again Summer???

  8. a player I feel we should possibly be looking at, although isn’t essential, is Dinyar Bilyaletdinov from Everton. Said he is unhappy and has a cracking left foot. Move Jonas to the right and DinBil to the left. Cracking player imo

  9. Over the years i’ve pretty much come to expect to see pretty much anything on a toon site…

    altho i never thought the day would come where a bukakke party is discussed.

  10. GeordieLadMick says:
    November 15, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    “a player I feel we should possibly be looking at, although isn’t essential, is Dinyar Bilyaletdinov from Everton. Said he is unhappy and has a cracking left foot. Move Jonas to the right and DinBil to the left. Cracking player imo”

    I would necessarily disagree Mick, but shouldn’t we get some decent defensive reinforcement in first?

  11. Robby Bobson says:
    November 15, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    “altho i never thought the day would come where a bukakke party is discussed.”

    Summer of 69’s been looking at the wrong kind of websites again. You can tell he’s a sex maniac from his nickname. ;-)

  12. I wonder if Benny has said being in the hole is his preferred position? Then again, he likes to run around and do his thing so I bet it is a yet.

    Good write up Worky. We should see him integrated more sooner or later.

  13. I largely agree with this article, Benny Arfa is a quality player and its only a matter of time before he’ll be getting a more prominent role in NUFC’s first team.

    However, its really important that he stays fit right now. I think that’s why Pardew is subbing him on for a few minutes at the end of matches. Ben Arfa’s only recently back from injury and the last thing he needs now is another bad knock that will keep him on the sidelines for 6 weeks. I say give him a few more weeks of this, let him build his confidence up and then let him work his magic!

    Also it has to be said, its great that we have options for a change! HWTL!

  14. I’d start Benny before Best really. I don’t have anything against Best, and I think he has done very good, but I think few will actually claim that a fit Benny in form is inferior to Leon Best. HBAs problem is that he is not getting games, I think most people agree that if he can get a good run of games his performance will improve a lot. But I actually think that Pardew does not dare to change the team around until we’ve lost in the league. Why are the club focussing so much on bringing in players at the age of 24 or less with good potential when we don’t play them. They wont get better by playing for the reserves, and I find it difficult seeing HBA going to a championship club on loan.

    Still I can see why Pardew finds it hard to mix up the starting lineup atm, but if we look behind some of the results we’ve probably used our amount of luck for this season. Can’t wait for the City game, Howay the lads!

  15. Pardew is trying to keep him fit and get him fully up to speed although i would probaly play him up front with ba on sat against city because if we do get a chance to counter ba has pace and very strong but benny is elctrifying with his pace and trickery could be what we need to get possibly a win from them or if you like try and steal a win.

  16. Having a fiver on newcaslte to win and ba first goal it might not work but hey if it comes in ill be quids in.

    This is one game i really hope to get something from so sick of these football pundits to say we havent played any one yet im going for 5 points in the next 3 games.

  17. HBA is probably just about fully fit now.
    He’s been introduced slowly & correctly without pushing him too hard, too soon.
    I’d love to see the lad start to show his skills & i reckon his time is just about due.

    Great work all round keeping the pressure off him.

    In a couple of his recent games (parts of) he’s looked slightly anxious to please, but it’ll click soon as he feels ensconced into the team.

    It’s also normal that AP wouldn’t wanna mess with a winning/undefeated team too much.

  18. That traore looks like he could be a real good signing also hes french so there must be some truth in in think graham carr done a fantastic job so far lets keep this up and viva la europe

  19. Workyticket – a sage article from yours truly, keep it up.

    It’s a dilemma true enough; one of the three that Pardew has to answer at some point – Marveaux/Obertan, Santon/raylor and Arfa/Best.

    Up to now Pardew is following the path of least resistance.. Shola and Lovenkrands have come to accept their understudy roles; whereas Sammi, Ferguson and Vuckic are green. Of those not playing regularly, Santon, Arfa and Marveaux came for first team football you’d think.

    I’ve said before – we will drop out the top 4 at some point, but it won’t be due to less than great results against the big teams, but inability to maintain the narrow margins of victory against the mid to lower table fodder. Our current team lacks goalscorers which is why I would be looking to find a place for Arfa in the midfield 4, not at the expense of Ba’s partner – Best, Shola or incoming January hitman.

  20. I don’t think it’s pards inability to change a winning team – hba loses the ball quite a bit which to be fair seems to be due to him wanting to impress – success so far is built on defence and I can’t see hba tracking back ever so it’s the bench for him until we start losing

  21. boater says:
    November 16, 2011 at 2:06 am

    “Workyticket – a sage article from yours truly, keep it up.”

    Thanks boater. In hindsight I should also have mentioned his insight in terms of passing as well as his abilty on the ball.

    Personally, if I were the manager in our next two or three ridiculously difficult matches, I would actually think about throwing all caution to the wind and just stick him on there from the start. I would even consider it if it involved changing the structure of the team. Of course though, Pardew almost certainly won’t do that.

  22. team v city:





  23. Ben Arfa suffered a double leg fracture at Manchester City last October so it will be intreasting to see
    if he starts and what his attuide will be like against city.

    If it was me I would want to prove a point against them, but if benny does start do you think the injury he got there last time will play on his mind ?

  24. I think ben arfa wont forget what happend but agree he will want to prove a point and i think this will make his mindset a lot stronger. Therefore i would play him as i said in my team i selected u have sammy and ben arfa who both have killer pace for the perfect counter attacking football man city may be strong in attack but not so strong in defence as other teams have proved ie QPR and Fulham so i think it is a matter of time till they face their first deafeat, might not be at the weekend but know team is invincible just got to know how to break their weakness and theirs is defence.

  25. to be honest i think ben arfa will have been thinking about this game all season and probably since he broke his leg in the first place.

    i think if he starts it will do his mental torture the world of good.

    once you face your mental blocks they never return you have to tackle them head on or they eat away at you.

    is tiote and cabey definitely fit?

    i heard cabaye is playing for france tonight or last night what ever it was.

    but i think tiote is 50/50.

    i personally would go for 5 in midfield


    jonas cabaye ben arfa guthrie raylor/samiobi

    santon/raylor collo saylor simpson


  26. See everyone is still thinking in terms of 50’s lineups, with at least one if not two big strikers hanging about waiting for those fast tricky wingers to feed them.
    Did no one watch the England vs. Spain game ?

    Where six little guys bamboozeled the England defense, stroking the ball around at will and running the so called channels.

    Who played the striker role ?, everyone of the six!
    Who was on the wing?, whoever ran that particular channel!

    Sure Fabregas played a Cabaye like role as playmaker, directing traffic, but everyone played defense, like a bunch of terriers, the reason they had so much possession.

    Hey we have those kind of players, good technical players, who can no doubt play total football, if they are allowed, as they did against Stoke, not letting them settle on the ball and confidently passing the ball around.

    Do we have to stay tactically in the past, is it not time to adopt to the modern form of the game, the same goes for a lot of other EPL sides.

    Sure we have some of the worlds best players in this league and congratulate ourselves on being the worlds best, but are we ?

    I think we have a lot to learn from the Spanish football, as how the game should be played,take Real Madrid, Barcelona they being so dominant, plus a few other top sides.

    Oh! by the way, lets not give up on the Citeh game, did anyone watch QPR almost beat them recently, hey! on any given day ?

  27. chuck says:

    November 16, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    “Hey we have those kind of players, good technical players, who can no doubt play total football, if they are allowed, as they did against Stoke,”

    “Total Football” is an overused term Chuck, and the football we played against Stoke certainly couldn’t be described in that way. Though the Cruyff style “tiqui taka” approach used by teams such as Barcelona and the current Spanish national side could be seen as a development of that system, even that has a different emphasis to that played by Michels’ Ajax and Netherlands teams of the ‘seventies.

    Of course, you’re right to say that we have alot to learn from Spanish football, and that it would be arrogant to suggest that the English Premiership is miles ahead of that League. Even though it is somewhat dominated by the giants of Real Madrid and Barcelona, “also rans” such as Valencia, Madrid’s other team, Athletico, and others could give our top teams a game anyday, and have have also had some success in European competition.

    On QPR’s plucky performance against Man City, moneybags were without without lightbulb head at the back in that game, and it made quite a big difference. In the shadow of all those fancy names in midfield and up top, he is a much underestimated part of their current success. He’s back for our lot though, and I think they will be much harder to break down at the back for it.