DAVIDE Santon believes a Hatem Ben Arfa-inspired Newcastle United have the quality to gatecrash the Premier League’s top four this season.
The usual suspects have climbed to the top of the Premier League in the early weeks of the campaign, but the loss of top scorer Robin van Persie over the summer has weakened Arsenal, who look the most vulnerable of the established top four to outside challengers.
Santon believes Newcastle can emerge from the crop of contenders to take that slot – providing that they have the correct “mentality” over the course of the campaign.
United’s start has been a mixed bag but they have taken four points from a potentially treacherous first fortnight without playing particularly well.
Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cissé are yet to hit the heights of last season.
While the team still appears to be getting to grips with the demands of balancing Europa League football with the bread and butter of the Premier League.
Santon admits to “disappointment” at the way they failed to perform against Aston Villa, a feeling exacerbated by the belief in the squad that they have enough ability to win every game they play.
Now the Italian defender – who looks an increasingly assured presence in a black and white shirt – is calling on Newcastle to turn potential into points and mount a serious challenge for the top four.
“We have the mentality now where we expect to win games and are disappointed every time we don’t win now,” he said.
“When you don’t win it is very difficult – especially at home, where the fans are so important. We’re not happy but it’s okay because next week we will go for a win.
“Now (the transfer window) is finished we are relaxed too. We have a really good team and can try to win every game because we have that quality.
“I don’t know where we can go but I think we have a possibility of qualifying for the Champions League this year. If we have the right mentality in every game, why not? We have the quality to do that.
“I think we can cope with the Europa League.
“It is tough for us and we do not have an easy group but it’s important for us in every game to get a win.”
Chief reason for optimism in these early weeks has been the fantastic form of the inspirational Ben Arfa (pictured right). He has already notched two goals and his equaliser on Sunday was of the sort of quality that has become his benchmark at St James’ Park.
Santon admits he has become a talisman for a United team who see him as their potential game-changer. He said: “For us Ben Arfa is so important.
“He has really, really good quality with the ball and he is fantastic. There is nothing he can’t do with the ball so of course he is important.
“Nothing he does surprises us. He has that quality. I’m not surprised if another team wants to sign him because he has fantastic quality.”
Despite his improved form in England, Santon has been surprisingly dropped from the Italy Under-21s squad for matches against Liechenstein and the Republic of Ireland this week.
That is probably good news for Pardew – who will look to use the international break to get a crop of injured players back – but Santon admits his sudden omission is a bit of a mystery.
“I did not go away with Italy under-21s – I will stay in England and relax here. I will relax and think about next week against Everton,” he said.
“I don’t know why I am not involved with Italy. I would like to be involved but it is up to the coach. I don’t know the reasons.”