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Newcastle hoping for more consistency from Ben Arfa
ALAN PARDEW wants to bring the X-Factor to Newcastle United's play more often this season and thinks Hatem Ben Arfa is the man to deliver.
Ben Arfa has made just 35 Premier League starts in his three years on Tyneside because of a series of injury frustrations.
But when Newcastle have had the Frenchman in full flow he has shown himself to be one of the most talented players in the top-flight.
There have been question marks over his fitness levels and shape during pre-season but he is in line to start the new campaign at Manchester City tonight.
Pardew knows the quality of Ben Arfa but he is keen to ensure he can call on him more often than not over the next nine months.
“Hatem has played 40 per cent of our games since he's been here and we've got to improve that ratio,” said the Newcastle boss. “You can't legislate for tackle he got at City in his first year (when he broke his leg).
“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.”
He added: “He gives you an X-factor, but he needs to get more consistency with his X-factor. But we know it's there. He can change any game with a turn of a coin.”
If Newcastle can rely on Ben Arfa more often this season then Newcastle will have a greater chance of success.
But Pardew, knowing how hard tonight's opening match with be against Manuel Pellegrini's City team, thinks the Premier League has got stronger again.
He said: “I do think that two years ago, that middle rank of teams were not as good as they are now, and that makes it more difficult for us.
“We do need to step our game up to compete with the Southamptons and West Hams who have bought well. Villa progressed well towards the end of last season, and Swansea look good as well. These are teams in direct competition with us.”
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