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Santon: 'We will miss Ben Arfa'
DAVIDE Santon admits Newcastle will miss Hatem Ben Arfa's creativity as they attempt to end a five-game winless run at Southampton tomorrow.
Ben Arfa injured his hamstring in Thursday's Europa League draw with Maritimo and will miss this weekend's trip to St Mary's as well as Wednesday's visit to Stoke.
The Frenchman has been the Magpies' most effective midfielder this season, and with Yohan Cabaye also sidelined following groin surgery yesterday, Alan Pardew's attacking midfield options are severely limited.
The Newcastle boss is aware of the significance of tomorrow's game, with his side having tumbled into the bottom half of the table in the wake of back-to-back home defeats to West Ham and Swansea, but Santon admits Ben Arfa's absence is a considerable blow.
"He's a really big player for us," said the full-back, who is one of only two ever-presents in the league this season along with Ben Arfa. "I think we will miss him.
"He's an amazing player and we need him on the pitch. We will have to try a different type of player. He's been the best player for us this season and being without him will be difficult for us on Sunday. But we have to win, 100 per cent, because we need this win."
Last weekend's defeat to Swansea left Newcastle in 12th place in the Premier League table, their lowest position since the final day of the 2010-11 season.
Their last away win came at Chelsea in May, and Thursday night's listless display against Maritimo hardly hinted at an impending upturn in fortunes.
Santon admits the Magpies are going through the most testing spell he has experienced since making a Ã‚£5m move from Inter Milan in August 2011.
But with Southampton struggling in the bottom three, tomorrow's game represents a great opportunity to begin turning things around ahead of next week's testing trip to the Britannia Stadium.
"This is the toughest time the club has been through since I've been here," said Santon. "Last year was a really great year, finishing in fifth position. This year has been a little bit more difficult.
"We've had a lot of players injured and suspended, but we can't just think it's difficult, we've got to be positive and just think about getting a win at Southampton. We've all got to give a little more and it's important for us to work hard. We won't have Hatem so we just have to keep playing and try to find a solution to win the game."
As well as Ben Arfa and Cabaye being missing, Newcastle will also be without Fabricio Coloccini at St Mary's as the centre-half serves the final game of the three-match ban that was imposed following his dismissal at Liverpool.
A combination of injuries and suspensions has forced Pardew to repeatedly chop and change his defence, a situation that has no doubt contributed to a tally of just one Premier League clean sheet all season.
"It's difficult because if you're playing with the same players, it's easier," said Santon. "But when you change the players every game because one's injured or one's suspended, it's difficult to keep the same performances. It's just tough."
One of Santon's former managers has been in the headlines this week, with ex-Inter Milan boss Rafael Benitez taking over from Roberto di Matteo at Chelsea.
Benitez only oversaw 25 games at the San Siro, and Santon was injured for much of the Spaniard's time at Inter, but the Newcastle full-back has nothing but respect for Chelsea's new boss.
"I worked with Benitez and I think he's a really good coach and a good person," he said. "I think he's going to be a good coach and a good person to have at Chelsea.
"I played a few games for him, but then I had a problem with my knee and didn't play for a long time. But when I was fit, he always picked me. I'm not surprised (at his appointment) because he won the Champions League with Liverpool and I think he's a good coach."