Until recently, Alan Pardew has seemed reluctant to start with Hatem Ben Arfa, much to the frustration of the player himself who had a few choice words to say about Alan Pardew’s tactics last week.
However, in a recent interview in the Journal, Pardew has explained how he sees the Ben Arfa situation developing on the pitch. Talking about the weekend’s game at Blackburn, Pardew said:
“It’s all about balance. His work-rate was quite good, it’s just sometimes intensity that’s the difference. It didn’t help in the first half that Mehdi stepped off a little bit and was a little bit too deep and therefore that didn’t help Hatem either. It all sort of combined.
“I was really pleased with his attitude when he went on to the right. He could have gone, ‘What am I doing out here?’ but he attacked the position. That’s really pleasing.
“I knew if we got the ball to his feet he was going to cause the full-backs a problem.“
Pardew then goes on to lump Benny in with a couple of other players who he thinks ‘switch off’ defensively:
“Anyone who’s seen us will know collectively we work really, really hard defensively. Gabby Obertan sometimes switches off and Besty, so he (Ben Arfa)’s not alone. That ethic is what we’re about and it has to balance up.“
But, says Pardew, if the set-up of the team is right and Benny’s looking threatening going forwards, he can be excused at least some of his defensive duties:
“If he is like he was in the second half on Saturday when he’s affecting the game so much, he doesn’t need to defend.
“At times in the first half he didn’t threaten them, and then we’re losing both sides. But second half, he doesn’t need to defend when he plays like that. His close control is phenomenal.
“In a football team you’re never going to get 11 characters who are the same. We have some of our characters for whom the defensive side and being diligent is 90% of their game. For Hatem it’s different. Flair and making things happen is 80% of his game.“
That sounds like good news. Pardew’s seeming reluctance to play Ben Arfa has frustrated a few fans but now that he’s explained it I can understand it. Pardew is the defensive coach and our long unbeaten run at the start of the season was largely due to excellent work defensively and, at least up until we lost Steve Taylor to injury, we’d let in fewer goals than any other team.
It was working back then and Pardew had no pressing reason to include Ben Arfa in the side. Like all players on the sidelines, it’s all about taking their chance when they get it and it looks like Benny took his and impressed the boss. So much so that as long as there is defensive balance in the rest of the team, Ben Arfa has just bagged himself a free role to go and attack defences as he sees fit.
Perhaps Hatem Ben Arfa will be a more regular feature of the starting XI from now on.