ALAN Pardew has pinpointed Hatem Ben Arfa as Newcastle United's potential relegation saviour - even if he feels the forward is still two months from hitting peak fitness.
Pardew’s United are precariously placed going into the penultimate match of the season against QPR and fans will be anxiously observing proceedings in Wigan tonight, where Roberto Martinez’s Latics entertain a Swansea side that have nothing left to play for this term.
A positive result for the South Wales outfit would leave Newcastle’s hand much strengthened, but they still need to go to Loftus Road and win – which is not a foregone conclusion given their woeful lack of cutting edge since the Benfica defeat at St James’ Park.
Newcastle have scored once in four games since then and will need improved performances from their attacking players.
“Goalscoring is what wins games, we’ve got to improve that area for next week,” Pardew admitted.
Pardew sees Ben Arfa (pictured left) – despite a hamstring problem that is undermining his ability to play 90 minutes – as the man to unlock a QPR team that has
already been relegated. Rangers’ pitiful season has been pock-marked by in-fighting and Stéphane Mbia even took to Twitter yesterday to suggest changing places with Joey Barton, a comment which drew criticism from R’s fans.
Still, they still need to be beaten and Newcastle will send out a patched-up Ben Arfa with exactly that intention, despite his injury.
“Ben Arfa has been struggling. This hamstring, he has a slight weakness in there, and it won’t even be strong I don’t think for six, seven weeks. He was terrific on Saturday and he’s a match winner.
“We’ve been bringing him on in the second half but we missed him when we took him off. He gives us that little thrust.”
The barren draw with West Ham was put forward as an example of Newcastle’s fighting spirit but some criticised their lack of attacking intention – a claim that Pardew robustly denies.
Newcastle’s manager explained that an injury to Shola Ameobi meant that they were “carrying” the striker for the rest of the match.
It is also a partial explanation as to why they didn’t make a more concerted effort to push on in those latter stages on Saturday.
“Shola unfortunately hurt his knee almost the first shot he had. So we were actually carrying Shola for the rest of the game. It was unfortunate we couldn’t push for the goal. We knew the Wigan score so we were pushing where we could.”
Pardew should have Ameobi to pick and another week of training should enable Ben Arfa to make a bigger impact at Loftus Road.
“I think for Hatem another week’s work will get him closer. Hopefully Shola is okay,” he said.
It has developed into a tense end to the season for a United team that have consistently underperformed on the domestic front.
Big questions will be asked at the end of the campaign but for now, the focus is on presenting a united front. The first words from Yohan Cabaye after the club were buffeted by claims of a dressing room split were intended to emphasise their solidarity.
He said: “We wanted to show we are together. We have stayed focused on being safe and playing in the Premier League next season. That is the most important thing. We know we are going to play well if we are focused together and stay together.”