It's safe to say that Newcastle United are suffering somewhat of a slump under the management of Alan Pardew of late—with three wins in their last 10 games, the club is on a current six-game losing streak—and notable in his absence within this slump is French midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa.
In that 10-game spell, Ben Arfa has completed a mere 158 minutes of Premier League football, generally being utilised as an impact substitute; in his only start of that period, the midfielder suffered the embarrassment of being hauled off at half-time during Newcastle's heavy 4-0 loss away to Southampton.
A high-profile signing back in 2011, Ben Arfa's absence has led to many questioning the team selection of Pardew, and this was somewhat explained when it was reported that the 27-year-old had been training with the Newcastle reserve side recently:
Hatem Ben Arfa trained in "different group" to the first team today #nufc— Lee Ryder (@lee_ryder) May 1, 2014
With his stock on Tyneside falling rapidly, is it perhaps time for Hatem Ben Arfa to look on to pastures new and leave Newcastle United?
In a recent interview with The Independent's Martin Hardy, Ben Arfa spoke of his frustration at the lack of first-team opportunities available to him this season:
I feel sad and frustrated, but not angry. I want to help my team and I can’t. It hurts a lot. I want to take the ball and give the maximum for the team. When I see we are losing games 3-0 or 4-0, it is very hard for me and I’m on the bench. If I was involved on Saturday [against Cardiff City], I think I could make a difference. I would like to try.
These are the words of an underused talent with an expressed determination to help his failing side, and it remains an enigma as to why Ben Arfa has been such a peripheral figure this term. However, the words of the Frenchman's manager come some of the way to explain at least his perspective:
Pardew on Ben Arfa: "This is not about me, Hatem or any individual player. What is important is the team and performance.' #nufc— Miles Starforth (@milesstarforth) May 1, 2014
It seems to be in Pardew's interest that keeping a regular side—crucially, without Ben Arfa—is paramount to the club's success, although results suggest otherwise.
Ben Arfa's form has definitely not reached the heights shown in previous seasons in 2013/14.
Statistics, courtesy of Squawka, show that the Frenchman has the worst shooting accuracy of any of Newcastle's regular attacking players, at 36 percent, and his haul of three goals so far this season is a testament to that.
Furthermore, Ben Arfa has only created 30 chances for his teammates this season, which leaves him below Yohan Cabaye in terms of contributions to Newcastle's season—a player who left the club in the January transfer window.
However, to give credit to the 27-year-old, this form is difficult to achieve with short bursts from the substitute's bench, as Ben Arfa continues:
Every player in the world needs confidence to show their best. It is hard to come in during games and it is very hard for the player if you’re substituted at half-time, like I was against Southampton. It hurt me. I had tried, it was very hard.
It’s not easy because when you come on and we’re 2-0 down and everybody wants you to do something great. I think it’s better if you start the game and it’s 0-0. After that you can lift your game up. When I come on with 20 minutes or 30 minutes left I give my best and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not good. But I give my best.
As most of his opportunities this season having come as cameo appearances, it is important to look at an early run of starts for Ben Arfa at the beginning of the term.
The midfielder's best run of form came in the first four games of the season, wherein which he completed 334 minutes of a possible 360 in games against Manchester City, West Ham United, Fulham and Aston Villa.
Again, as per Squawka, Ben Arfa score two goals and completed 65 percent of attempted take-ons as he performed at his bewitching best.
Newcastle took seven points within that purple patch for Ben Arfa, underpinning the theory that a player performs more consistently—and better—give a confidence-boosting run of games.
If his form this season proves Ben Arfa as the definition of the footballing cliche of the mercurial forward, one need only look to another until-recent Premier League misfit to suggest that perhaps a move to a more appreciative manager would benefit the Frenchman.
More often than not, Taarabt was seen on the periphery, producing moments of magic with little consistency.
However, following his move to Clarence Seedorf's resurgent Milan side in January, the Moroccan's form has taken a turn for the better; as per Squawka, Taarabt has started 10 of 11 games for Milan since his move, scoring four goals, including a superb solo goal to open his account against Napoli in February.
It took a move to another club to free Taarabt of a dismal run of form, and with Ben Arfa a very similar player, it may be the best option for the Frenchman to take.
However, in his interview with Hardy, Ben Arfa expresses his commitment to the club:
I want to stay here even if the manager doesn’t believe in me, because I will show him I can play here. ... My dream is to be in the top four next season with Newcastle, to get into the Champions League or to win a cup. That is my dream.
Under Pardew at Newcastle, this dream looks far from becoming a reality anytime soon, and a midfielder of Ben Arfa's unquestionable calibre—on his day—deserves to contend at a higher stage.
Can Hatem Ben Arfa still prove a success if he were to move to another club?
Given that Taarabt is flourishing without the weight of pressure of being the foremost attacker at Milan—supported by the talents of Kaka, Keisuke Honda, Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy amongst others—a move to club such as Arsenal, joining their current potent attack, may benefit Ben Arfa.
Many options are to be considered from both sides, but if the Frenchman is to take heed of a player such as Taarabt's success elsewhere, a move for Ben Arfa could prove a shrewd one for many sides.