HATEM Ben Arfa is desperate to play his part for Newcastle in the Europa League – but his participation could hinge on the Magpies progressing to the last 16.
The influential French forward returned to full training this week after recovering from a hamstring problem and a bout of illness.
Ben Arfa (pictured) was hoping to be involved in tomorrow night’s Europa League tie away to Metalist Kharkiv, but it may come too soon for him.
Alan Pardew and his players today flew out to the Ukraine the second leg of the Round of 32 tie, which is finely balanced with the first game having ended goalless.
And Ben Arfa – determined to help relegation-threatened Newcastle push up the Premier League table – will be willing his team-mates on in Kharkiv if he is not involved.
“The Europa League is very important for us,” Ben Arfa said. “If we qualify, it will be a very good thing for the club. I think we can go far in this cup.”
Ben Arfa suffered his hamstring problem in his only appearance in the Europa League – the 1-1 home draw against Maritimo in November.
He set up Sylvain Marveaux’s goal before he was forced off, and the 25-year-old – who made a brief but goalscoring comeback at Fulham in December – has been missed over the past two months.
If Ben Arfa is not involved at the Metalist Stadium, he will make his comeback in Sunday’s home Premier League game against Southampton – or the following week’s visit to Swansea. “The most important thing is the Premier League – we have to finish higher,” Ben Arfa added.
Meanwhile, defender Steven Taylor hopes his run of injuries is finally behind him. The 27-year-old has started Newcastle’s last four games after recovering from a hamstring problem.
However, manager Alan Pardew, mindful of Sunday’s home game against Southampton, has decisions to make on his team for tomorrow’s Europa League return.
Pardew has vowed not to over-play Taylor given his wretched luck with injuries, and the former England Under-21 captain is a candidate to be rested.
For his part, Taylor is ready and willing to play in the Ukraine. “I feel good and fresh,” Taylor said. “It’s just what I wanted – getting out there and playing games.
“It’s given me confidence. I’m feeling good and training hard.
“We just want to get more wins now.
“There are a lot of games now, which is great for me. I just want to keep going to the end of the season. We’ll have a strong team out (against Metalist), and we’ll give it a good go. We want to go as far as we can in this competition.”
H Full-back Davide Santon says Newcastle’s players are relishing the challenge in Kharkiv, with the frustration of having two goals disallowed in the first half firing them up.
“We’re feeling better,” Santon said. “In training, the atmosphere’s very good.”
Yoan Gouffran was among those left behind, with the forward cup-tied.
Gouffran – who returned to training this week after suffering a gashed leg in Newcastle’s last Premier League game – could be fit for Sunday’s home game against Southampton.
“We were sad for Yoan, but I hope he is better for the next game,” added Santon.
“He is a good character for us, and will be really important.”