This article has been waiting to be written all season…
When we had our shocking start I thought about it.
When we failed to score winners against the likes of Stoke and Aston Villa (the first time) I thought about it.
When we lost by the odd goal to the likes of Watford (twice), West Brom and Everton I was extremely close to getting it done.
In fact, this article was almost written after the St Mary’s (Southampton 3 Newcastle 1) debacle. I was there…and the first half was as bad as I’ve ever seen us play. That’s not an exaggeration, I mean it when I say EVER. At one point I genuinely wondered what it looked like to string three passes together or create anything bordering on attacking intent. Of course, all I had to do was watch the team with red stripes that day to remind myself how football was supposed to be played.
Then followed a fantastic six game unbeaten run that, unfortunately, came too late in our season. During this run I felt the article would be less relevant. Then we drew with Villa again and I cast my mind back to the opening away game of last season and the same fixture in mid-September the season before.
Last season we drew 0-0 at Villa (deja vu) with Cabella missing a golden opportunity. I was sat watching at the time, wishing our talented scapegoat hadn’t been banished from the first team. On that day I thought back to the other fixture I mentioned. At the start of the 2013/14 season Newcastle played at Villa Park in September and came away 2-1 winners. Hatem Ben Arfa scored one and made the other.
I know I’m labouring the point here but what I’m getting to is; if we’d had Hatem Ben Arfa this season would we have been in a relegation scrap? I haven’t written an article in a while.
If anyone that recognises my name will probably be rolling their eyes as most of my articles have been about HBA. I’ve not felt as excited about a player since the days of Laurent Robert and before that David Ginola. Cabella and Thauvin have been extremely poor substitutes for the flair and unpredictability of the maverick winger.
My second team has been Nice this season and I’ve recorded every edition of Ligue 1 Review. Trust me when I say this, Hatem Ben Arfa has been unbelievable.
I know it’s a weaker league but on his day he’s simply unplayable and it’s been his day more often than not. If anyone else has followed him you’ll be nodding your heads right now. He’s scored screamers, he’s slotted world-class assists and he’s led defenders up and down France on a merry dance with some mind-boggling dribbles.
If anyone saw the run from the corner in the game against Angers then they’ll know what I mean. You have to see it in slow motion to really appreciate just how quickly his mind and feet actually work.
On top of that, his end product has been there. Seventeen Ligue 1 goals and six assists is good for a winger in any league. Believe me when I tell you, he’s set up some sitters that have wasted by his team mates too. He should be in double figures for assists.
He’s leaving Nice on a free this summer and talk has been that Barcelona have been in contact. That’s right Alan ‘I couldn’t spot talent if I headbutted it’ Pardew. The player you pushed into the Under 21 squad and released on a free is being courted by one of the best teams in the world. We let him go for free.
If this doesn’t illustrate just what a mess we are as a club nothing will. Imagine Chelsea releasing Hazard or Arsenal releasing Sanchez because they fell out with their managers. I’m not saying he’s as good as them but it’s all relative.
He was our most talented player but we released him from his contract early whilst the like of Gouffran and Ameobi continue to earn a salary. I can forgive Pardew for some things. However, there is a long list of things I’ll always hate him for and the treatment of this talented individual is right at the top of it.
I could go into detail about all the important goals and assists in previous seasons. I could point out that our worst runs came when he was injured or couldn’t get in the team. When I wrote articles backing him in the past. a lot of the comments stated that he was a luxury player that we couldn’t afford.
Well I would have gladly taken that luxury player this season and last. In my opinion we wouldn’t be in this mess if we still had him. Ben Arfa versus Aston Villa, I don’t think that game finishes 0-0.
Don’t get me wrong. Townsend began to fill the gap and heal the wounds and I pray that he stays on next season..but just imagine the damage that wings occupied by Townsend and Ben Arfa could have wreaked. That would have been a sight worth seeing.
Unfortunately, it’s the stuff of dreams and we as fans are coasting into our nightmare. Another year in the Championship and a potential exodus to follow.
Whatever happens I’ll be following my man Hatem again next season, wherever he ends up.
You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin