Ben Arfa rewards exotic enterprise by bringing his goal to Newcastle
Everton 0 - Newcastle United 1: Without his Metrocentre complex Sir John Hall would never have been able to fund the ambitions of Kevin Keegan and, although Newcastle no longer deal in world-record transfers, they still have an eye for an exotic, stylish bargain.
Hatem Ben Arfa is certainly that; a son of a Tunisian international, a graduate of the Clairefontaine academy, a contemporary of Karim Benzema at Lyons, a winner of the French title with Marseilles. And as he proved with a shot rammed into the net beneath the Gwladys End from 25 yards, Ben Arfa has a wonderful eye for goal.
He also has a reputation for being "difficult", as training ground rows with Djibril Cissé, Sébastien Squillaci and Didier Deschamps attest to. From the troubled, tormented Hughie Gallacher, whose goals drove them to their last championship in 1927, to Craig Bellamy and Kieron Dyer, Tyneside has attracted the dangerously brilliant.
In the tunnel at Goodison Park, the 23-year-old with his wispy beard looked the model of a young footballer, wonderfully happy to have scored on his full debut, let alone with something so special.
"It was a very important win because, after losing to Blackpool, the pressure on us was enormous," Ben Arfa said. "It was building up inside our heads, so we are very relieved and happy to have won. Losing to Blackpool was something we didn't expect; we knew Everton would be very hard and to have won here tells you something about what we can achieve."
Thus far Ben Arfa's only problems have been that he does not speak English and, apart from Cheik Tiote, Newcastle's Ivory Coast midfielder, nobody at St James' Park understands French, although the Tunisian's family have accompanied him to Tyneside to make settling in easier.
His first impressions of Newcastle were of "a big, big club with some really astonishing supporters" and, as Ben Arfa acknowledged, you could say the same of Marseilles, the club he had just left. And yet, to have exchanged the French champions for something as uncertain as Newcastle, when the likes of Werder Bremen were offering Champions League football, was something of a risk.
"No, sometimes in football you have to take a risk," he said. "When I came to Newcastle for the first time you could see how big it was. It may have been newly promoted, but it didn't feel like it. There are so many good players at the club. You could see that on the pitch. And it is a great thing when you play in front of passionate fans. You want to give them something back."
Ben Arfa's manager, Chris Hughton, was asked whether Newcastle's first victory at Goodison since Sir Bobby Robson was at their helm meant Newcastle had "arrived".
"No," he replied. "We arrived on the opening game of the season at Manchester United." They were beaten 3-0 at Old Trafford, put six past Aston Villa and then capitulated at home to Blackpool.
The great cliché about the Premier League is that it is a "marathon not a sprint". Yesterday a vast river of bodies crossed the Tyne Bridge for the Great North Run and the constant charm of the city's football team is that sometimes it resembles Haile Gebrselassie and sometimes the bloke in the rabbit suit.
Everton 4-4-1-1: Howard; Hibbert (Coleman, h-t), Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Osman, Arteta, Heitinga (Bilyaletdinov, 74), Pienaar; Fellaini; Beckford (Yakubu, h-t). Substitutes not used Mucha (gk), Neville, Gueye, Barkley.
Booked Fellaini, Beckford.
Newcastle United (4-1-4-1) Harper (Krul, 35); Perch, Williamson, Coloccini, Jose Enrique; Tiote; Routledge, Nolan, Barton, Ben Arfa (Gutierrez, 84); Carroll. Substitutes not used Campbell, Lovenkrands, Taylor, Smith, Ameobi.
Booked Jose Enrique, Perch, Nolan.
Man of the match Ben Arfa.
Possession Everton 45% Newcastle United 55%.
Shots on target Everton 3 Newcastle United 4. Referee A Marriner (W Midlands). Attendance 38,019.
Match rating 7/10