At the time of writing, plenty of media outlets ranging from the national to the local are spilling ink playing up the possibility of Hatem Ben Arfa making a summer move to Spurs. I must stress that at this point in time, there has been no concrete news on whether or not either party is actually interested in making this transfer happen. Dealing in realities is not all that fun, however, and pure speculation and rosterbation certainly is. With that in mind, here's a little retrospective on the player's career, and a look at what the 26 year-old forward could offer to AVB and the next generation Spurs side that will be moulded by Daniel Levy's transfer dealings in the months to come.
Hatem Ben Arfa: An Overview
Hatem Ben Arfa joined current club Newcastle United in 2011 in somewhat surprising circumstances, after impressing the coaching staff during a one-year loan spell from Marseilles despite only making three Premier League appearances during that period.
Since joining the Magpies, Ben Arfa has become easily one of the club's key players, operating as an inside forward playing in from the right or as a No.10 behind the striker. Manager Alan Pardew has even gone as far as to suggest on a number of occasions that the Frenchman's trickiness and ability to shoulder part of the side's goalscoring burden means he can make a Suarez-like impact on the fortunes of the team when fit and healthy. This state of affairs is almost certainly the part of the reason why Pardew made the jump last season from a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 shape to a stricter 4-3-3, utilizing Ben Arfa in his favoured wide-right position.
How would Ben Arfa fit for Spurs?
Part of the reason why a potential move for Ben Arfa on Spurs' part is so appealing to me personally is the fact that Ben Arfa's talents make him tailor-made to play in Andre Villas-Boas' favoured system. Fundamentally, Tottenham have become so dependent on the ability of Gareth Bale to dig deep and carry the team in a goal-scoring sense this season because, quite frankly, that even in a 4-2-3-1 system, none of Tottenham's other offensive players look capable of helping him out. With both Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe blowing hot and cold throughout the term, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Aaron Lennon have needed to step in and help Bale to vary the attacking threat Tottenham present. Though both have had at the very least decent seasons by their own standards (Lennon actually becoming something of a key man in his own right), neither has managed to help out significantly in this respect. Bringing Ben Arfa into the fray would immediately give AVB another figure who constantly looks to break into the box from out wide and put shots on target to help rectify this shortfall next season.
What makes Ben Arfa a particularly fascinating prospect is the fact that in many respects, he would provide a very different sort of inside-forward threat to his hypothetical teammate Bale. Whereas the Welshman relies on strength and pockets of space to take his chances, Ben Arfa actually thrives in tighter conditions, possessing as he does much lighter footskills and dribbling abilities. This has been evidenced this season by his completion of a truly staggering 68 dribbles in only 13 appearances this term, an average of 4.3 per game- compare that to 56 in 29 on Bale's part, an average of 1.9 per game. (stats from WhoScored.com).
Such ability with his foot on the ball would make him an even more valuable commodity to a Spurs side that has really lacked the presence of a lockpicker this season- someone who can break down a parked bus. Pair that scalpel-like subtlety with Bale's hammer approach, and you have a front line that could really have defences quaking.
What's the catch?
OK, let's start with the obvious. Hatem Ben Arfa is made of glass, or perhaps an even more fragile substance. He's missed almost all of this half of the season through injury, just as he did all of his maiden season with Newcastle and most of the last one. Should Daniel Levy be throwing around large sums of money on players who might not even end up playing for us that much? It's a much more difficult question to shrug off than you might initially think.
Second, there's the big question of whether we need him. As previously mentioned, Aaron Lennon has had the season of his career playing out at wide right for Spurs this season. Is it a fair reward for him to be discarded the minute an offer is accepted for another half-decent player in his position? Add that to the fact that Andros Townsend, a player who's actually a little similar to Ben Arfa, will be rejoining us after his loan spell with QPR finishes, and you have serious questions about redundancy and whether AVB really is establishing a meritocracy at Spurs to deal with.
Then there's the tactical issues that Ben Arfa brings along with him. One of the things we all agree has been especially great about Aaron Lennon's performances this season is that he provides lots and lots of hardworking defensive cover for the ever-swashbuckling Kyle Walker down the right flank, which has in turn helped Walker to get his own game down pat. Ben Arfa, by contrast, is notoriously iffy at tracking back to help mark the opposition's wide left threats, looking as he does to stay high and drift into central positions. Would Ben Arfa and Kyle Walker's chemistry together rapidly turn HBA's honeymoon with Tottenham into a marriage made in hell?
Finally, there's the personality issue to deal with. I won't delve too much into paper talk, suffice to say that Ben Arfa was notoriously sulky during his early career, culminating in his practically going on strike to force a move away from Marseilles in 2010. He was also one fo the players banned and fined after France's Euro 2012 campaign exploded into the usual chaos of recrimination and blame-throwing. With AVB looking to put together a team that can really challenge for top honours next season, is bringing in a player who might unbalance the squad's burgeoning harmony really worth the risk?
So on balance, is he worth it?
I'm going to stick my neck out here and say yes. At the end of the day, what this season has proven to me most of all is that for AVB to truly succeed at Spurs, he needs to construct a team that's composed of players who can really let him implement his preferred style. Ben Arfa is one of those guys, and on his day he can be borderline unplayable to boot. If we can nail this transfer down for a fair price, let's say £8m (far from implausible considering this is the same Mike Ashley would let the team's much-loved club captain go to the Championship for £3m in 2011), then I am more than on board with this deal. And if we can actually end up seeing it go through early on in the window for once, then I'm practically giddy with excitement.