HATEM Ben Arfa’s adamant that Newcastle United CAN challenge for a top-five place this season.
The forward scored for the second game running on Saturday to give Alan Pardew’s side a 2-1 win over Aston Villa.
Ben Arfa pounced from close range in the first half after good work from full debutant Loic Remy.
Christian Benteke levelled in the 67th minute with a powerful header, but substitute Yoan Gouffran claimed all three points with a neat finish after Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan parried a shot from Ben Arfa.
Ben Arfa talked about replicating Newcastle’s fifth-placed finish two seasons ago after the club’s season-opening defeat at Manchester City.
That suggestion was seen as wildly over-optimistic given the result at Eastlands, last term’s relegation battle and United’s lack of squad depth.
But the 26-year-old remains convinced Newcastle can challenge for a European place, such is the attacking talent in Pardew’s starting XI.
“I said at the start of the season we can do top five,” Ben Arfa told the Gazette. “I’m still thinking that way.”
Ben Arfa – who scored a late winner against Fulham a fortnight earlier – was deployed on the right side of a front three, and he tormented the Villa defence.
He believes the team has goals in it, and only injuries can stop United challenging for a place high up the Premier League.
“With this formation, we know we can score almost any time,” said Ben Arfa. “There is big talent in this team.
“We have a lot of creative players like Loic Remy and Yohan Cabaye.
“They will make opportunities and serve up big chances. For me, this team is strong. If there’s no injuries for us, we have a very good team.”
Another positive for Ben Arfa was Newcastle’s response to Benteke’s equaliser.
Rather than settle for a point, United pressed for a winner.
“We showed a lot of character,” he added. “When they equalised, we kept going to win the game.
“That is very important, and it shows we have a strong team.
“It’s not always about your football, sometimes you have to show you are strong in the mind.
“We have showed we have big characters here. Everybody done their job properly, and I am very proud of my team.
“The win is important, but the most important thing was that after the goal we kept on going. We didn’t just take 1-1. We didn’t settle for a point.
“If we want to be a big team, we have to be more like that.
“The big clubs are winners in their minds. They have the winning mentality, and don’t settle for anything less.
“Manchester United are like that, and we need to have that as well to be in the top five.”