Hatem Ben Arfa is arguably Newcastle United’s most electrifying talent. The French winger is capable of jaw-dropping displays of skill and creativity and has the ability to turn a match on its head in favour of the Magpies at any moment.
To replicate the kind of success Newcastle enjoyed in the 2011-12 season—when they finished fifth in the Premier League—Alan Pardew needs to get the best out of his No.10 and employ a formation which allows Ben Arfa the freedom and room to affect matches.
While playing for Marseille before joining Newcastle, Ben Arfa had built up his reputation as a winger, who could cut inside or attack the line from either wing and create chances for a centre-forward.
This position has been the one where Geordie fans have seen their star man most often, although in recent times, he has been employed in a more central role, raising the question about where the 26-year-old is at his best.
His magnificent strike against Bolton came from the middle of the pitch, when Ben Arfa roamed infield to collect the ball before streaking past four players and scoring.
Next season, Pardew must do two things regarding the flying Frenchman. Firstly, he must keep him fit for as long as possible, as Newcastle are a significantly more dangerous team with Ben Arfa on the field.
Secondly, he must create a system that allows Ben Arfa to affect games as much as possible.
Whether the tactics have Ben Arfa wide, central or in a “free role,” getting the best out of him is key for the Magpies.
A 4-2-3-1 formation could be the best bet for Newcastle, with Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye playing deeper in the middle third, with Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran and Ben Arfa playing closer to Papiss Cisse up front.
This would allow Ben Arfa to roam across the attacking trio of positions, swapping from one flank to the other when necessary and also presenting the chance to play centrally.
The only negative about the system would be that the whole team would be built around Ben Arfa and if it didn’t work, Newcastle could be back to square one and could find it difficult to create chances.
One thing is for sure though; Ben Arfa is certainly good enough to take on the pressures of being the chief playmaker in the Newcastle side, so long as he gets over the troublesome hamstring injury that ruined last season.
Without injury and playing in his best position, whatever that may be, Ben Arfa has the talent to inspire Newcastle United to a favourable position when the new Premier League season kicks off in August.
It’s just up to Alan Pardew (or possibly Joe Kinnear) to unlock the Frenchman’s magic on a regular basis.