LOSC – Chelsea (Champions League / round of 16): Why Lille’s feat passes (despite everything) by Hatem Ben Arfa

There was not the slightest flash. No fantasy of which he has the secret. Hatem Ben Arfa was like Lille last Friday against Saint-Etienne (0-0). Without pep and without idea. He failed to make a difference, much less to be decisive. It’s not really a novelty. HBA has been discreet to say the least since his arrival in Lille during the winter transfer window. To his credit, there is a decisive pass during the rout against PSG (1-5). And that’s all. That Gourvennec systematically establishes him during the last three outings of the Dogues in Ligue 1 has changed nothing.

On the contrary, it is a trend that is confirmed. Ben Arfa is now in 16 consecutive starts in Ligue 1 without having found the net, between the end of his Bordeaux experience and the start of his Lille adventure. We have to go back to December 6, 2020 and the match won by the Girondins against Brest (1-0) to find the trace of a goal from Ben Arfa. He had only experienced such a shortage once in his career. That was over ten years ago. And it does not announce anything transcendent before the meeting of the Mastiffs with Chelsea in the Champions League.

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Ikoné’s costume

It was not necessarily necessary to expect prowess from Ben Arfa in the Lille jersey. He is 35 years old. He was without a club for the first six months of the season. And a glance at his career is enough to define him as a player whose strong point is not reliability. But Lille did not give him a chance for no reason. “We saw from the start that he had prepared wellestimated Jocelyn Gourvennec on RMC in January. He showed things as soon as he arrived and he is good. It’s an additional weapon and a profile that we didn’t have. He is able to be both in the orientation of the game, in the pass, but also in the elimination. He’s got it all and if Hatem feels good he’ll give a lot.”

Should we still believe in Ben Arfa: “As long as there is Hatem, there is hope”

The Lille coach particularly needed a player of this register. And in a hurry after the departure of Jonathan Ikoné to Fiorentina during the winter transfer window, six months before the end of the French international’s contract with Lille. She left the LOSC without its particle accelerator. The one who, by his dribbling and his changes of rhythm, knew how to unbalance the opposing defense and give another dimension to the offensive animation of the Mastiffs. A player capable of realizing individual differences to tip a match on his talent. Ikoné had not shown it too much in L1 in the first half of the season. But more in the Champions League.

The Last Creative Argument Without Sanches

Ben Arfa has endorsed this costume and he is able to wear it. This has not been seen so far but if a player has the ability to succeed in impossible gestures, it is him. Gourvennec is aware of this. The Lille coach took care to put HBA in the best technical position to allow him to express his talent. He gave him a place of choice in his starting lineup, in the axis in support of Jonathan David, in his preferred position. Even if it means relegating a player like Burak Yilmaz to the bench, essential in the quest for the title last year but in distress this season.

“The worst thing is that Chelsea managed as if it were a Cup game”

The poor form of the Turk is one of the explanations for Lille’s chronic ailments in attack. Like the difficulties of Jonathan Bamba to regain his level of last season. Under these conditions, Renato Sanches had asserted himself as the main, if not the only argument to give percussion and creativity to an offensive sector of Lille which is sorely lacking in it. But the Portuguese, victim of a lesion in the femoral biceps against Saint-Etienne, will be unavailable for three weeks and will miss the reception of Chelsea in the Champions League.

A final counterpoint?

This leaves Ben Arfa with important responsibilities when the Mastiffs must go up a handicap of two goals to achieve the feat against the Blues, winner in the first leg at Stamford Bridge (2-0). If Jonathan David remains the number one asset of LOSC in attack, the Canadian is especially expected at the finish. It is rather in the creation that the shoe pinches at the Northerners this season. It will be essential to crack a block as solid as that of the formation of Thomas Tuchel, reigning European champion and winner of the Club World Cup this winter.

This creativity will rest on the shoulders of Ben Arfa. The player trained in Lyon was not expected in such a role for a stake as strong as an 8th final of the Champions League. He is far from posting the best performance of his career. But he has an exceptional opportunity, perhaps the last, to shine in the eyes of the whole world. It would be quite the opposite, as HBA knows how to chain them so well on the field when he is at the top of his game. It will have to be against Chelsea. It would be a kind of miracle. But that’s all Lille needs.

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