One of the main reasons for the upturn in fortunes is Alan Pardew’s decision to resort to a traditional 4-4-2 formation, abandoning the customised 4-3-3 that the St James’ Park faithful had become accustomed to.
The side has looked more compact, with the deployment of in-form attacker Loïc Rémy through the middle making the Toon a more dangerous attacking unit.
However, one man that has suffered due to the formation switch is Hatem Ben Arfa, who has found himself on the bench as a result.
Immensely talented and a match-winner when on form, Pardew has utilised Ben Arfa in a number of different positions since his July 2010 switch to Tyneside from Marseille.
The latest role the 26-year-old has been used in was as a false nine; the figurehead of Newcastle’s attack in the 4-3-3 system.
The logic on paper is there for all to see – the most creative player able to drop deep to pick up the ball and link-in with other attackers. In reality, Ben Arfa does not have the stature to hold the ball up or the inclination to run in behind defences or close opposition centre/full-backs.
With his positive and negative attributes in mind, where does he fit into a 4-4-2 formation?
The natural choice seems to be on one of the wings, with the versatile attacker able to play on either side. In a wide role he would be able to get one-on-one with opposition full-backs, has the ability to put good deliveries into the box and can drift in-field to get involved centrally.
However, the principle drawback is the Frenchman’s lack of desire to track back and help out his full-backs. One of the key reasons that Pardew’s men kept a clean sheet against Spurs, other than Tim Krul’s heroics, was the visiting wingers’ work going back towards their own goal.
Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran both put in an excellent afternoon’s work to stifle Tottenham’s attacking full-backs, and as a result Andros Townsend and Gylfi Sigurðsson were virtually anonymous.
Pardew will pick his side based on who Newcastle are playing, but Ben Arfa playing on the wing could actually be an advantage to the opposition if his unwillingness to defend is exposed.
With Rémy the furthest man forward in the system, Shola Ameobi has been partnering the QPR loanee in attack. The Nigeria international has the stature to pose a physical threat, can hold up the ball and gives Pardew’s men an out ball.
However, if Ben Arfa is to be reinstated to the starting line-up, it appears that in the place of Ameobi is the only viable option. This would certainly change the side’s style of play, removing a targetman and replacing him with a designated number ten.
Although Newcastle would look more lightweight by replacing Ameobi with Ben Arfa, the France international’s inclusion behind Rémy could well be devastating. In a position with little-to-no defensive responsibilities, Ben Arfa would be free to go where he pleased to pick up the ball, with Newcastle taking advantage of his excellent range of passing and vision.
There is certainly an argument to suggest that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it, and as such Pardew will be tempted to keep Ben Arfa on the bench while the team are excelling.
The attacker looks like an excellent impact substitute; someone who could come off the bench to unlock opposition defences or provide individual brilliance.
However, with Ben Arfa having ambitions of playing for his country in a World Cup year, this may not be the most popular choice with the player.