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Where Did It Go Wrong For Hatem Ben Arfa?

At times, Hatem Ben Arfa has shown the kind of skills that would put him on a par with any of Newcastle’s most talented football legends. His magnificent goal in the April 2012 against Bolton, when he raced from his own half through the Bolton defence before slotting home past Adam Bogdan is one of the best goals ever scored by a player in a black and white shirt.

Indeed, at the peak of his powers for the Toon Army in 2011-2012, Ben Arfa was being talked about as a player worth well in excess of £15m. Injury disrupted his 2012-2013 season considerably as the Frenchman missed large chunks of the season from Christmas but 2013-2014 was hopefully to be the year when he established himself further as a leading light at Newcastle United.

So where has it all gone wrong?

In the shambolic 4-0 humiliation at Southampton, Ben Arfa, along with stand in right back Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa were consistently exposed by the bright inventive play of the Southampton side in the first half, so much so that manager Alan Pardew withdrew both players at the interval.

To the uninitiated in the ways of Ben Arfa, it seemed a strange decision; given that at the time, Newcastle were 1-0 down and sorely in need of the attacking inspiration that Ben Arfa at his best can easily provide.

However, to those watching and for Newcastle fans who have witnessed the Frenchman’s performances this season, it was also a completely understandable decision given that Ben Arfa’s 17 appearances this season in a Newcastle shirt in the Premier League, have largely been instantly forgettable and only memorable due to a seeming lack of effort.

Indeed, there are widespread rumours that several experienced first team players at the club have told manager Alan Pardew that Ben Arfa’s lack of fitness and more to the point, his lack of discipline, workrate,  when the team do not have the ball, are a liability.

Perhaps most pointedly of all, nobody at the club has seen fit to deny these rumours. Indeed manager Pardew confirmed the view at the time by stating Ben Arfa had to “gain their trust”.

When asked about the Frenchman following the defeat at Southampton, Pardew was clearly keen to express a few choice words, but instead opted for a more benign and sanitised view:

“I am not really going to talk about individual players,” he stated. “We have to collectively accept we weren’t good enough.

“The changes were tactical. We had a problem down that side.”

To the Newcastle fans watching, it was evident what the problem was. As much as Southampton’s inventive movement and passing was an issue, the fact that Yanga-Mbiwa was playing out of position and, perhaps critically, was afforded no protection by Ben Arfa, ensured that Southampton could exploit their advantage in this area.

It says something too that Pardew chose to send on Davide Santon (struggling for fitness himself) and then start him against Man United when the Italian really did not look 100% ready for Premier League action.

Yet the problem is not really at right back; once again Ben Arfa’s lack of willingness to defend was a large contributory factor to the teams shocking first half display.

I won’t comment on his introduction against Man United because that was a totally different situation.

This is not the first time that Ben Arfa seems to have shown apathy towards his current employer. At Lyon and Marseille, when he felt it was time to leave the club there was a sharp decline in both his performances and attitude.

At Lyon that led to a public spat on the training ground with Sebastien Squillaci before a switch to Marseille. At Marseille, after a proposed loan deal to Newcastle United fell through, Ben Arfa refused to return to the club and refused to play for the club for the remainder of the season, which given that this occurred at the very start of the season in August 2010, was a bold, brash move.

However, it worked as Ben Arfa joined Newcastle initially on loan on 27th August 2010, before making the move permanent in January 2011.

Now it seems, history is repeating itself for the third time with the Newcastle Chronicle suggesting that Ben Arfa’s career at Newcastle is now effectively over.

The French midfield has already angered Pardew by missing Newcastle’s warm weather bonding break in Abu Dhabi in early 2014.

Pardew warned Ben Arfa that he “needs to deliver. He needs to produce assists and goals for us.”

Given his form this season and especially of late, the Frenchman seems to lack the ability and inclination to do either.

Perhaps part of the problem may be that Ben Arfa has never really carved a niche for himself in the Newcastle side. At times he has played well out wide, other times in a more central role, but in both cases, he cannot be said to have made a claim for a regular place in the side in that role.

Alan Pardew is quoted as saying “Hatem’s in a pool of players that you can ask, ‘Is he going to be a success here?’ If they show that they’re going to be a success, then they stay.

“If not, then we’ll move them on.”

If Saturday’s 45 minutes against Southampton is likely his last start in a Newcastle shirt, then it is another sad story of wasted talent. Ben Arfa certainly had the ability to be one of the leading performers in the Premier League over this and the next few seasons.

Now, it seems he is set for the scrapheap and likely to move for considerably less than the £15m price tag that was being mentioned just two years ago.

Ben Arfa’s talent will certainly attract clubs who may believe they have the set up and resources to allow him to thrive once again.

Whether the player has the application, energy and determination to work hard to turn his career around in new surroundings, remains to be seen.

If Ben Arfa goes, Newcastle will miss his talent, but they won’t miss his lack of effort, petulance and selfishness on the field and as a result, they may just be a better team and a more unified squad despite his absence.

3 Comments on Where Did It Go Wrong For Hatem Ben Arfa?

  1. Another article, making Ben Arfa the scapegoat for defeats. Are the other players not to blame for defeats? It is shameful placing all of the blame onto Ben Arfa. The other players deserve their fair share of blame too.

  2. By the way, the three goals went in against Newcastle AFTER Ben Arfa came off the pitch for the Southampton match. How can he be blamed for the Southampton defeat, when he was not even on the pitch for the majority of goals against Newcastle?

  3. paul atkins // April 12, 2014 at 5:38 am // Reply

    Hatem is a victim of Alan pardue’s ineptitude as a coach. Keegan or Bobby Robson would have nurtured and build a team around his ability, not betrayed him for ‘not tracking back’. Sack pardue!

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