NEWCASTLE United boss Alan Pardew can’t wait to have Hatem Ben Arfa back in the fold.
But Pardew insists he won’t take any risks with the forward.
Ben Arfa is pencilled in to make his comeback from injury in Tuesday night’s Carling Cup tie away to Nottingham Forest.
The 24-year-old – who missed the bulk of last season after suffering a horrific double leg break – hurt his ankle in a friendly against Sporting Kansas City in July, the France international suffering ligament damage at Livestrong Sporting Park.
And Ben Arfa – who Pardew admits has had his mental strength tested by the setback – is close to a return.
“Hatem’s had to be very strong, especially after this injury,” Pardew said.
“He was looking good in pre-season, and it was a blow to him. He’s actually recovered quicker than we thought.”
Ben Arfa – who is likely to be played through the middle by Pardew – showed glimpses of his undoubted talent before Manchester City’s Nigel De Jong ended his first season at the club last October.
He scored a stunning winner at Everton, and Pardew, yet to field him in a competitive game, is relishing having him available.
Pardew added: “On the training ground he can do things that no one else at this football club can do, and therefore he has a talent that we need to put in the team.
“But he needs to be right, and I’m not going to take any chances with him.
“You could argue I should give him 10 minutes (this afternoon against Aston Villa), but I think three days of real hard graft, and being involved on Tuesday, is a better route for him.
“We want him back at his best as quick as we can.”