Newcastle appear to have made another important breakthrough on the transfer front with the expected capture of Marseille attacking midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa. Reports in the media suggest that a deal has been reached between the two clubs and the player should complete his protracted loan move this week. The 23-year-old will join on an initial year long loan deal with the option of a permanent move at the end of the season. Newcastle will also have to pay a fee of around £1 million as part of the loan deal. Ben Arfa has won seven caps for the France national team and has earned a reputation as one of the country’s most talented young players. However, he has also earned a reputation as a troublemaker with a number of bust-ups with his team mates and coaches alike. Manager Chris Hughton will hope he will settle down in the St James’ Park dressing room, which has become much calmer and professional place compared to previous campaigns. Ben Arfa can operate out wide or just behind the striker, two positions where the Magpies are short of options. Currently Jonas Gutierrez and Wayne Routledge are the only established wingers on the club’s books. Ben Arfa’s signing represents a coup for Newcastle with a number of other clubs in Europe interested in the talented but unpredictable player.
The Magpies ended their mixed pre-season campaign on a low note with a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Rangers at Ibrox. It was Newcastle’s second defeat in pre-season and they know they will need to improve if they are to avoid relegation this season. Against Rangers Newcastle bossed most of the possession but failed to make it count as they were wasteful in the final third. Hughton picked a 4-5-1 formation for this game with a starting line-up that looked very close to the one that is likely to start the season against Manchester United in less than a week’s time. Joey Barton partnered Danny Guthrie in central midfield with Kevin Nolan just in front of them trying to support the loan striker of Andy Carroll. After going 2-0 behind in the second half, former Rangers’ favourite Peter Lovenkrands scored for Newcastle to reduce the arrears. It was a good time for Lovenkrands to show his worth going into the new season. After the game he said: “The reception I got, I couldn’t have asked for more than that. It was outstanding, and the home fans and the away fans were fantastic. I was disappointed with the result, but happy to get my goal – especially at Ibrox. It was a nice feeling.”
Although Ben Arfa should become the fourth addition to Newcastle’s squad this week, Hughton has admitted that he is still looking to make further signings before the window shuts at the end of the month. Newcastle should have no problems filling the quota systems that have come into place with the Premier League’s new 25 man squad ruling. They have a high percentage of home grown players in their squad and there are a number of players from the youth team who are on the fringes of the match day squad. The only worry could the lack of experienced players in the final cut. Speaking to the press at the weekend Hughton said: “I think we would be stretched if nobody was to come in before the end of the month. At the moment, we have to remember that, in terms of the defence, we have Danny Simpson who’ll be missing for seven or eight games and Steven Taylor who will be out for even longer. That’s two of our biggest players missing. I think we would be stretched if we don’t add. That doesn’t mean we can’t get through, and it doesn’t mean if we’re fortunate with injuries, we couldn’t cope. But we could be stretched and we’re aware of that.”
Newcastle should have few worries over the mid-week friendly matches with just two players involved in the international action. Argentinean duo Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez have both been called up their friendly match with the Republic of Ireland. Striker Andy Carroll, who had been linked for a shock call-up to the full England squad, has had to pull out of the England Under-21’s match with a back injury. But he should be fit for the Magpies’ opening games next Monday.