ALAN Pardew claimed Hatem Ben Arfa’s best performance for him was down to not working too hard for the team.
Ben Arfa made two and scored one as Newcastle United blew West Bromwich Albion away 3-1 to move level on points with fifth-placed Chelsea in the Premier League.
Pardew’s team is largely built around a ferocious work ethic, but the Frenchman’s flair was the abiding memory of a pulsating performance.
Ben Arfa is sometimes criticised for not contributing enough defensively, but Pardew criticised him for the opposite against Norwich City the previous week.
“Was it his best game for me? For sure,” said Pardew. “He got the balance right between working hard for the team and bringing his flair to the pitch. I think he actually worked too hard against Norwich and took a little bit away from his ability when he’s got the ball.
“He was mesmerising with a couple of his bits of play. He’s a special talent when the ball’s at his feet. A couple of runs were absolutely outstanding.”
Ben Arfa created two goals for Papiss Cisse – taking the Senegalese striker’s tally to five in six games – and scored one himself.
His goal put Newcastle 2-0 up after just 12 minutes, a lead Cisse added to after 34. Shane Long’s second-half goal was a mere consolation.
Having made just 12 starts this season, Ben Arfa is fresh as Newcastle look to chase down Chelsea – ahead only on goal difference – in the race for fifth and a guaranteed Europa League spot. Pardew reiterated his belief the France international could have a part to play at this summer’s European Championships too.
“He’s been out so long you can see a hunger in him,” he commented. “If I was the France national coach (Laurent Blanc) I would consider him because there’s not many players who can do what he can do. It might be a nice wildcard for France to have him in the squad.
“He really has knuckled down and he’s a much more controlled person in his manner and the way he is around the training ground. In the past he had a reputation that he was an enfant terrible or whatever you want to call it, but not here.
“He’s been immaculate, especially this season. He’s really kind of focused and he’s got his mindset in a good place.” Pardew remains steadfast in his belief the Champions League is out of reach, but with Sunday’s visit of Liverpool a prelude to Tottenham Hotspur’s game against Swansea City, they are discomforting some big beasts.
“The last 10 games (of the campaign) we’ve won two out of two and they’re the most important of any season,” he added. “I don’t think we’ve got the depth of squad to challenge for (the top four). We lost (Fabricio) Coloccini and that’s going to be a big blow to us going into the Liverpool game but it’s a game the North East can look forward to.”
Centre-back Coloccini injured his hamstring, potentially leaving Mike Williamson without a recognised partner for two to three weeks. Cisse left the field with cramp.
Beaten manager Roy Hodgson was full of praise for Newcastle’s performance.
“The quality Newcastle showed was far superior to us - their passing, their ball control was much better than ours,” he conceded.
Hodgson awoke yesterday to stories he had put himself in contention to be England’s next manager. “I can give you verbatim what I said,” he explained. “If you were offered the England job, would you take it? was the direct question. My direct answer was it would seem to me as an Englishman you would need a very good reason to turn it down.”
WEST Bromwich Albion coach Roy Hodgson could be without midfielder James Morrison after he limped out of the action against Newcastle with a knee ligament injury. Albion had to finish the game with 10 men as they had already used their three substitutes. Hodgson said: “It’s knee ligament damage. He will have the scan tomorrow and we will see what brings. The initial prognosis from the medical team is not good. We have to see what ligaments in the knee have been affected.”
Hodgson insists his stance has not changed regarding the England job after his remarks in a radio interview on Saturday prompted headlines yesterday morning. He has been the subject of speculation linking him as one of the candidates to replace Fabio Capello.
Hodgson said: “I can give you verbatim what I said. The radio guy said to me ’if you were offered the England job, would you take it?’
“My direct answer was: ’It would seem to me as an Englishman, you would need a very good reason to turn it down.’ What I’ve said is that the FA are going through the process and I just happen to be one of the people caught up in the speculation about what they are going to do.”