HATEM Ben Arfa says the Tyne-Wear rivalry is one of the biggest he’s ever seen – but insists he finds it ‘beautiful’.
The Newcastle United winger is yet to play against Sunderland, after missing the last three through injury.
But the French international – who hopes to feature on Sunday in the 146th clash between the two sides – was quick to praise the rivalry between the two clubs and their supporters in the build-up to the game.
Ben Arfa said: “For me, this what football should be like. I find it beautiful in many ways.
“It’s one of the biggest rivalries that I have come across in football between two sets of fans and two clubs.
“The rivalry is very important. You don’t want fighting and (for it) to be too hostile, but rivalry is important.
“It is interesting that it exists between two cities.”
Ben Arfa was a second-half substitute in the 2-2 draw against Wolves on Saturday, and will be hoping he has done enough to feature from the start at St James’s Park this weekend.
He went close to grabbing a winner late on, but was also guilty of giving the ball away in dangerous areas.
It had boss Alan Pardew frustrated on the sidelines, but the Magpies manager has refused to criticise the enigmatic star too much.
“When Hatem goes in-field, he can’t take people on in front of our back four,” said Pardew.
“I don’t want to criticise him, as I think he’s had enough of that.
“I think he’s trying his hardest to do it in the right areas, and he almost won it for us with that fantastic hit towards the end.
“It wasn’t far away. I was right behind it, and I thought it would just curl in.”
Meanwhile, despite the close proximity of the two cities, Ben Arfa has revealed that he is yet to venture into enemy territory.
When asked if he ever visits Sunderland, the Frenchman joked: “I don’t, perhaps because there is nothing there?”
Put your Twitter in here @shieldsgaz