Barcelona's search to revamp their front line this summer—or at least to find the support act to the first-choice front three—has seen them linked with a huge variety of names, as they bid to strike a balance between not overspending on someone who won't play every week and having better options in place than they did in 2015-16.
One of the more names to crop up in the media is that of French attacker Hatem Ben Arfa, who starred last term in Ligue 1 with Nice. L'Equipe (h/t Marca) is among those to have linked him with a Camp Nou switch.
The player himself suggested in May on a Facebook broadcast with Eurosport (via Marca) that a deal was not completed and that he could even end up staying at Nice. But out of contract this summer and aged 29, it is potentially a last opportunity for the forward to make a big move and fight for trophies.
From the point of view of Barca, however, it would be an unnecessary move, and they would be better served looking in other directions.
There's no doubt Barcelona need to add depth to the attack; Munir hasn't found the consistency required to be a regular player, and Sandro Ramirez is set to depart on a free transfer. After the unstoppable talent of Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi in Luis Enrique's first-choice front line, it all goes downhill rather quickly and attacking midfielders are often pushed forward to supplement the attack.
At least one new face is required to boost Barca's options, particularly following summer tournaments for all three senior forwards.
Nolito has been long suggested as a target but is said not to be a current priority for the club by Marca, while Tonny Sanabria is a potential avenue for exploration, according to Gazzetta World (h/t Marca), having earlier in his career played for Barcelona B.
By far the most likely arrival is Denis Suarez, who excelled at Villarreal in 2015-16 and who looks on the verge of returning to the Camp Nou after Barca executed a buy-back clause for €3.5 million and, according to Marca, agreed terms with the attacker to make a permanent move on July 1.
Denis vs. Ben Arfa
If the 22-year-old Denis is taken as a guaranteed arrival, does Ben Arfa still make sense as a potential addition?
The Spanish schemer played most of the season for the Yellow Submarine from either the right or left side of their 4-4-2 system, attacking the channels and cutting inside wherever possible to operate reasonably centrally without actually being a second forward. His incisive passing and ability to dribble past players opens up spaces to exploit, while movement ahead of him is key in allowing him to unlock defences.
Denis' big strength at this point in his career is not in finishing off moves; despite hitting five goals in all competitions last season, he should have had perhaps double that tally, arriving into good positions late on in attacks inside the box but not always maintaining his composure or technical ability at the key moment. Add in his set-piece prowess, and there's every reason to suspect he could easily manage double figures in future seasons.
Ben Arfa, by contrast, has played out much of his career as a wide forward, cutting infield, but last term he excelled from an almost exclusively central role, either as a support act behind the striker, at the tip of a diamond or up top in a two-man attack.
He scored 17 times in the league and would no doubt contribute more goals to the Barca campaign than Denis will manage—but the roles he shone in do not exist in Luis Enrique's setup.
There is one central striker, Luis Suarez, and nobody immediately behind or alongside him.
Those spaces are reserved for Neymar to cut infield or for Messi to roam as he pleases, playmaking from deep or dribbling infield, positioning himself between the lines to receive possession and turn to face goal and create chances. Plugging Ben Arfa into Messi's role wouldn't immediately be rewarded with the Frenchman replicating his goalscoring form of last term. Nor would using him as a sub in matches that are already won.
More Backup or Star Quality?
A key question for Barcelona in deciding which of their attacking targets to make moves for is to anticipate the game time they'll receive. A big outlay should obviously give more chances of success in terms of the quality of player being brought in, but if they are restricted to 2,000 minutes a season, is it worth the expenditure?
As a free transfer, Ben Arfa naturally reduces the worry on the financial side, but in Barcelona's 4-3-3 system, he only ideally fits one role: the right side. The same accusation can be levelled at Nolito, who only ideally features from the left of a front three.
If a senior player is to be added, it's better for Barcelona that they follow the Arda Turan (and Denis) plan, picking up someone capable of playing in the front three but also specialising in a central-midfield role, where game time is more plentiful. The two offensive-minded starters, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta, both get subbed off with frequency or rotated to save them for the biggest games.
Turan and Denis should fill the void there, but another alternative is Philippe Coutinho.
The Liverpool star has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain, as well as Barca, by Marca, and he has the quality to be a huge addition for the side, playing either from midfield or from the left side of attack—as he is doing for Brazil at the Copa America this summer.
Every player's career history is looked at and considered before clubs make transfers official, and with specific regard to Ben Arfa, it doesn't always make for great reading.
Injury worries are not a huge concern, but having failed to shine at Newcastle United for more than a season at a time and flopping completely at Hull City, there have long been question marks over Ben Arfa's temperament and relationships with colleagues.
Arguments with coaches and players have been commonplace throughout his career, and despite having huge individual talent and being touted as a star in his younger days, Ben Arfa has only ever managed 15 caps with France at international level.
He was left out of the UEFA Euro 2016 squad despite his goals last term, and the one-year contract handed to him by Nice last summer (he initially signed in January 2015 but was ineligible until the start of 2015-16) was indicative of the issues he faced at previous clubs.
One good season at age 29 cannot make up for the wasted years of Ben Arfa's talent, and Barcelona, in truth, can do better than he can offer.
Even as a free option, he doesn't bring enough reliability or versatility to suggest he'll contribute significantly to a club chasing honours on three fronts. For that reason, the club are better off gambling elsewhere, even where a bigger fee is involved, to secure talent both for 2016-17 and for the future.