HATEM Ben Arfa’s on fire at Newcastle United – and again lighting up the Premier League.
Ben Arfa salvaged a point for Alan Pardew’s side with a stunning goal in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Aston Villa.
It was Ben Arfa’s second strike of the season - the forward netted a penalty in the season-opening win over Tottenham Hotspur - and the 25-year-old’s the only one of United’s attacking players to have hit form in the opening weeks of the campaign.
What’s more remarkable is that the France international, on Didier Deschamps’s standby list for his country’s games against Finland and Belarus, played just 45 minutes of football in pre-season.
And Newcastle manager Alan Pardew will be wrapping the club’s “special” one in cotton wool between now and September 17, when his team travel to Everton.
Ben Arfa announced his arrival in English football two years ago with a stunning goal at Goodison Park before suffering a season-ending injury a fortnight later.
Pardew’s hoping for more of the same from Ben Arfa on Merseyside when the Premier League resumes after the international break.
“Hatem’s really on fire for us at the moment,” said Pardew.
“He was the real highlight of the game against Aston Villa. He’s just a special talent. He’s been our best player.
“He’s always been a massive talent in France - his technique sets him apart.
“He’s got great power in both feet, and defenders just don’t know which foot to show him on to. He’s a fantastic player for us.
“Fortunately for us he’s not with the French squad, so we have him for another couple of weeks. We’ll wrap him in cotton wool and wait for Everton.”
Ben Arfa, a revelation in the latter months of last season as United challenged for a top-four place, struck in the second half, smashing an effort beyond a helpless Brad Guzan with his weaker right foot after a crossfield ball from Vurnon Anita was half-cleared to him in space just outside the Villa box.
Guzan - starting ahead of former Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given - had previously looked comfortable between the posts.
“He scored an absolute peach of a goal,” Pardew told the Gazette. “It was probably the only way we were going to be that goalie (Guzan) - he came in and was a little inspired. You could tell.
“Some people would have crumbled under that pressure of replacing Shay.
“But he grabbed it by the horns, and looked comfortable - it was going to take a wonder goal to beat him.”
On Ben Arfa’s lack of pre-season football, Pardew added: “Well, that’s how it goes - you’ve got to pay credit to the player.”