Hatem Ben Arfa
|Passes (% accurate)||34/43 (79%)|
|Shots (on target)||5 (3)|
|Crosses (accurate)||11 (5)|
|Dribbles (successful)||5 (2)|
Our Carlsberg EPL player of the week for week three is the gifted Frenchman Hatem Ben Arfa. I recently read the comments of a Newcastle fan who stated that ‘Ben Arfa's luck with injuries is make or break for us this season’, and after seeing the effect his absence had on the team last season, it is difficult to argue with such a comment.
Amazingly Newcastle went from the top five in 2011/12, to the bottom five in 2012/13, and the fact that Ben Arfa was only able to play in 19 league matches last year was a large contribution to such a nosedive. Against Fulham in week three he was the inspiration for Newcastle’s first win, slamming home from the edge of the box in the 86th minute to relieve some pressure on boss Alan Pardew.
However the comments of the manager after the game were not exactly full of praise and gratitude towards Ben Arfa. "Hatem may be slightly dysfunctional at times, he doesn't always do what we want and he made some bad decisions in terms of selection of pass today but he can win games at any level. I'd been pulling my hair out with him but then he produces a moment of magic. That's Hatem."
He may be a free spirited maverick, but he’s one that the Magpies so desperately need. Without Ben Arfa’s creativity then Newcastle seemingly have few other ideas than launching the ball up to Papiss Cisse, a tactic which does not play to the strength of the forward who is not at his best with his back towards goal. Anyone who viewed the drab 0-0 draw with West Ham United in week two, in which Newcastle had their first shot on target in the 90th minute, would know that even if he can have a selfish streak at times, Ben Arfa is Newcastle’s best chance of success.
On Saturday the predominantly left-footed Ben Arfa was positioned on the right wing, perhaps to utilise his pace and creativity against the ageing John Arne Riise. If this was the tactic, then it paid dividends in the second half as the Norwegian full back never looked comfortable and was embarrassingly left on the turf in the 54th minute after being skinned by Ben Arfa.
During the game he created three golden chances from out wide. Twice he played delightful crosses into Cisse, the first with the outside of his foot, and the second with a rare right-footed cross; both chances were not converted but demonstrated the impact that the Frenchman was having on the game. In the 80th minute another beautiful cross was stood up for Yoan Gouffran, but he was unable to make clear contact with the ball despite a goal looking certain.
With all around him wasteful, he served up his best to give Newcastle their first goal and points of the season, demonstrating his quickness and ferocious striking power. Picking up the ball on the edge of the area he shifted the ball inside on his trusty left foot and gave David Stockdale no chance with a bullet effort. It’s true that Riise and Alexander Kačaniklić should have done more to stop him, but Ben Arfa is a magician, capable of making opponents look silly; Newcastle fans will hope that he does such a thing on many more occasions this season.