Twisting, turning and leaving defenders chasing shadows is Hatem Ben Arfa’s forte. He loves to dribble and is more than capable of decimating almost an entire team in one surging run.
However, over the last couple of months, the Frenchman has cut a frustrated figure at Newcastle United. The 26-year-old has struggled to hold down a regular starting place in Alan Pardew’s starting line-up and his form has been even more erratic than usual.
The stage even seems to be set for the former Marseille winger. Yohan Cabaye’s departure for Paris has opened up a place in the Magpies’ side for a new string-puller and go-to man.
But Ben Arfa remains unable to find his best form when it’s needed, a common problem that has frustrated the Geordie faithful for almost four years now.
However, now you rather get the feeling that Pardew has had his fill with the part-time France international.
The enigma is no longer one of the first names on the team sheet each week and has lately seen his place come under threat from Sammy Ameobi—a rare home-grown promising Geordie.
Ben Arfa has just under 18 months left on his contract at St James’ Park, and he could become another of the French legion to have their heads turned by other challenges. There is sure to be interest from those in the French league should he become available in the summer—when he will only have 12 months left on Tyneside and could be available for a knockdown price.
But for now, there is no reason why the winger shouldn’t have his entire focus on the remainder of this season. There are 12 games left in the Premier League and a World Cup in the summer, something that is by no means out of Ben Arfa’s reach. A rather telling statistic is that Ben Arfa has made just 13 appearances for his country, despite being involved in his nation’s teams from under-16 level.
Of course, we don’t know if there is something going on behind the scenes at Newcastle that is forcing this lack of form for Ben Arfa. Perhaps he has lost faith in a manager that has tried for three and a half years to find his best position without succeeding, or maybe he is upset at the loss of Cabaye, a leading light in the Newcastle dressing room.
Or maybe Ben Arfa will step onto the pitch against Aston Villa this coming Sunday and turn in an exceptional performance, something that would fit in with his rather volatile form.
In a strange way, Ben Arfa personifies Newcastle United. Never straightforward, always something going on, sometimes brilliant, sometimes in shambles...but always entertaining.