Rodgers not setting CL target

December 10, 2012

Hatem Ben Arfa is feeling the love at Newcastle United as he continues to develop in his career.

The Frenchman has become a key part of Alan Pardew's plans after his skilful performances played a key role in helping to secure fifth place in the Premier League last season.

Ben Arfa, 25, is again expected to be included in Newcastle's starting XI when they take on Fulham at Craven Cottage on Monday night.

And the former Marseille man is hoping to repay his fans who have helped him settle in a career which in the past had not been without controversy and bust-ups.


"I feel very happy in Newcastle, I feel welcome, I feel loved here," Ben Arfa said in The Independent.

"I love the city, I love the place. I love it when the fans come to meet me, or they come to see me."

Ben Arfa's time at Newcastle has not been without difficulties after suffering a sickening double leg break from a tackle by Manchester City's Nigel de Jong in 2010.

The injury came just four games into the France international's career at St James' Park following an initial loan move but he believes the recovery process helped his development.

"I think there is a reason I had that experience, maybe to learn more," he said.

"I am happy to have had that experience today but not then. I can be philosophical about it now. It is a very good thing. I have learned from the experience."

United secured their second 3-0 win against Dundee this season thanks to goals from Keith Watson, Jon Daly and Flood but the Irishman admitted the scoreline flattered them.

Watson dived to head home a 17th-minute corner against the run of play and United escaped a strong penalty claim when John Baird's cross came off the arm of Brian McLean after the defender had lost the flight of the ball.

Referee Willie Collum rubbed salt in the home side's wounds by awarding United a 71st-minute penalty after Gary Irvine caught Stuart Armstrong after the midfielder had cut the ball back.

Daly had seen a shot saved by Rab Douglas before the whistle blew but he converted from the spot-kick and the three SPL points were safe before Flood's deflected late strike.

Flood said: "It wasn't the best game we have played recently, or the most enjoyable, but the result was the most important thing.

"I think we got a few breaks but we were overdue a few breaks.

"We had two offside goals against Motherwell and Hibernian.

"We were due that, let's hope there's a bit more luck to come."

Flood described his goal as a "shank" after his weak effort from 20 yards took a major deflection then bobbled over the arm of Douglas before trundling over the line.

"To be fair I was stretching for it," he added.

"Richie Ryan wouldn't have been happy if it hadn't gone in, he wanted the ball - but I don't think Richie would have scored to be honest!

"I'll have a look at it on television and have a laugh and that will be it. It won't be sitting in the cupboard that's for sure."

Dundee manager Barry Smith was frustrated with Collum's decision to play advantage and then give the penalty after Daly had failed to convert.

Smith, whose side are six points adrift at the bottom of the SPL, added: "The major decisions have gone against us. Up to that point in the second half we were probably in control and creating chances.

"They have won the game but did they deserve to win 3-0? I don't think so."

Sunday's 3-2 win over West Ham ensured the Reds reduced the gap to fourth place to just four points.

Their sequence of fixtures over the next four weeks sees them face the likes of Aston Villa, Fulham, Stoke, QPR and Sunderland, and Gerrard believes they need to capitalise on the momentum they have started to generate.

"We're building slowly towards where we want to be," Gerrard told the Liverpool Echo after the club's first back-to-back Premier League victories since last December.

"We've got two home games now against Aston Villa and Fulham.

"If we can capitalise and make it 12 points out of 12 then we will find ourselves a lot closer to fourth.

"It's a platform to build on. We just have to focus on Villa now.

"Come the end of December we're really looking to be close to that fourth position.

The result at Upton Park saw Liverpool come back from 2-1 down without suspended top scorer Luis Suarez, scoring more than two goals in the league for only the third time this season.

Strikes from Glen Johnson and Joe Cole, in addition to James Collins' own goal, have added to recent efforts by Daniel Agger and Jose Enrique which have given the hope that the goalscoring burden carried by Suarez can now be spread around the team.

"I think before the game people were doubting us and thinking we would be a bit toothless in the final third without our top striker," added Gerrard.

"But we've gone away from home, scored three goals and got the three points.

"We showed a lot of character and determination to come back like that.

"Every win does a lot for the group and we did it without not only our top scorer but one of the top scorers in the Premier League

"People will always doubt you and question what's going to come from this team.

"A lot of people have said for years we're a one-man team or a two-man team.

"We can't control what people say and their opinions, but we know we have got a lot of good players here.

"If we play in the right way and do what the manager asks us then we will win games."

Gerrard also singled out Johnson, Liverpool's best player this season, for praise after his superb strike put them ahead, only for a contentious Mark Noble penalty and Gerrard's own goal to give West Ham the advantage.

"It was a special goal from Glen and he's a player in form," said Gerrard.

"He's been fantastic for us since the start of the season. It's no shock to me. I play for Liverpool and England with him.

"His consistency levels, and not just this season but for a long time now, have been very good.

"He's certainly up there with the best right-backs in the world."

The Magpies proved more than a match for all but the very best during the 2011-12 campaign, mounting a charge which took them into fifth place and secured a surprise return to European football.

This time around, injuries, suspensions and a general lack of form have made for a difficult start, and despite last week's 3-0 victory over Wigan, Alan Pardew's men head for Fulham on Monday evening just four points better off than neighbours Sunderland, who slipped into the relegation zone as a result of Saturday's 3-1 home defeat by Chelsea.

However, Ameobi is confident that the quality is still there and with reinforcements emerging from the treatment room to bolster the youthful side which lost 2-0 in Bordeaux on Thursday, he is confident they can bounce back.

Ameobi said: "When you lose games like that in a row, which hasn't happened during the manager's tenure here, it's going to be very difficult and confidence can be low.

"But we have got a belief - we finished fifth last year and we have got to take that belief into this season.

"When you are losing games, you have got to understand that the only way you can get yourself out of it is by working hard and hoping the quality you know you have got comes through.

"Thankfully, it did the other night [against Wigan] and hopefully that confidence can flow into Monday's game.

"That's the great thing about having all these games, you can put a bad defeat right behind you with a game three days later.

"We are looking forward to that and hopefully we can get back to winning ways."

The victory over Wigan ended a run of four successive league defeats and could hardly have come at a better time for Pardew and his players.

That, coupled with the impending returns of Davide Santon, Cheick Tiote, Hatem Ben Arfa, Jonas Gutierrez, Gabriel Obertan and Demba Ba from injury, will send them to Fulham in high spirits.

However, Newcastle's Premier League record at Craven Cottage is ordinary to say the least - they have lost five of their last six visits and were thrashed 5-2 there last season.

Ameobi said: "It's been a tough place for us to go in recent seasons. We are scrapping for our lives and we know we have got to put everything into it.

"We have certainly got the quality - and hopefully we will be getting a few players back as well, which will help boost the squad.

"Hopefully we can go down there and really lay all our cards on the table, and that's enough for a win."

The FA have already vowed to take action following the "unacceptable" scenes which followed United's winning goal in their 3-2 triumph.

Ferdinand was struck by a coin thrown from the City supporters before home goalkeeper Joe Hart stepped in to prevent the United man being confronted by a fan who came on to the pitch as order was being restored.

"If the pitch hadn't been so wet when the fan came on and he slipped over, he could have attacked Rio," Young told MUTV.

"When Wazza (Wayne Rooney) was trying to take his corner there were so many objects being thrown on to the pitch, and the one that hit Rio could have taken his eye out.

"It is not nice to see that. Hopefully that will be dealt with."

The win moved Liverpool into the top half of the Premier League, and a run of form that has seen the Anfield club lose just once in the league since September 23 means they are just four points off the top four.

Rodgers is keen for his players to continue to develop their understanding of the style of football he has been implementing since taking charge of the club in June, rather than setting end-of-season goals.

When asked if the top four was now a realistic target Rodgers said: "We are just trying to build our momentum. We had a difficult opening fixture list and coupling that with trying to play a certain way of football was always going to be difficult.

"Certainly over the past couple of months we have been progressing and just let's see where we finish.

"This is one of the biggest clubs in world football and everybody knows where it should be but we are making steady progress and climbing the league and it is important for us to do that."