Manager Alan Pardew admits getting Hatem Ben Arfa on the field more often will be crucial to Newcastle United’s hopes of a good season.
Since breaking his leg at Manchester City in the early weeks of his Magpies career, the French playmaker has been troubled by a litany of injuries.
On Ben Arfa’s return to Eastlands, Pardew concedes it is a trend that needs to be bucked.
“Hatem has played 40% of our games since he’s been here and we’ve got to improve that ratio,” he said.
“You can’t legislate for tackle he got at City. It was a terrible tackle and the boy (Nigel de Jong) apologised. That injury knocked a big hole in that percentage, when he would have been fit.
“He’s a player where we’re very, very conscious of the need to manage him, not just physically but mentally too because he is a maverick, that’s what gives him his strength and makes him what he is.
“That doesn’t mean to say he’s great all the time – we need to focus on Hatem and he needs to focus on us.
“For him, the goal is to have a fantastic season and be in France’s World Cup team, and I think he has a chance of doing both.”
Newcastle spent last season fighting relegation. Pardew believes that had Ben Arfa been available more often, that would not have been the case. He said: “Yes, undoubtedly. He had a spell in that season when he was at his very best (two years ago), and if he played 30-plus games we would have a more successful season, it’s fair to say that. He gives you an X-factor, but he needs more consistency with his X-factor. But we know it’s there. He can change any game with a turn of a coin.”
While still not comfortable about his attacking options, Pardew believes central midfield will be one of Newcastle’s strong points this season if Moussa Sissoko can build on the promising start he made in the second half of last season.
“It’s a big year for Moussa,” he said.
“You look at him and he has all the tools to be a tremendous midfield player. I put him in the same bracket as Cheick Tiote, Yohan Cabaye, and we have Vurnon Anita in there as well, so that’s an area where we’re very, very strong.”