BOLTON and the rest of the Premier League should beware. Hatem Ben Arfa is a changed man, as he tells chief sports writer Mark Douglas.
THERE was a time when Hatem Ben Arfa would have shown a crop of waiting reporters a clean pair of heels after a performance like Friday’s.
Ben Arfa had just got through an hour and a half of what might be politely termed “dirty work”. Barely able to get himself onto the ball to showcase his wonderful capacity to open up defences, you might have expected a former enfant terrible with a reputation for selfishness to be in a bit of a huff. But with a shrug of the shoulders and an apology for his lack of English – he was being modest as he seems fluent these days – he lined up to deliver a verdict of impressive maturity on Newcastle’s success.
He was happy, smiling and in tune with the general mood in the dressing room. This has not always been the case, Ben Arfa’s maverick tendencies have bubbled up once or twice during his two seasons on Tyneside, but now he looks like a changed man.
This is the new and improved Ben Arfa – United’s secret weapon as they push hard for a Champions League slot.
“It is down to everyone working hard,” he says. “Everyone is working hard, every day in training. There’s a very good spirit in the dressing room and that is why we win.”
That must be music to the ears of Alan Pardew, as well as a coaching staff who have worked over-time to get Ben Arfa on the same page as the rest of his team-mates. Hundreds of questions have been fired at Pardew about the form of Ben Arfa this season, most of which were played with a straight bat by the Newcastle boss. These days he doesn’t have to play it so conservatively, because Ben Arfa is doing his talking on the pitch.
The “shift” he put in on Friday was phenomenal, and showed a real maturity on the part of the 24-year-old. He harried, chased and prompted as Swansea hogged the football – and his work-rate was a real ringing endorsement of the work that United have put in.
“I’m enjoying getting a run of games at the moment and of course winning makes it better,” he said. “It’s going very well for me and hopefully we can keep it going and achieve something special.
“Yes, we can make it to the Champions League now but we have to take it game by game and see where we are at the end of the season.