FIT-AGAIN Hatem Ben Arfa has a fight on his hands at Newcastle United – because of refreshed battle for places at the club.
The forward is available for Saturday’s game against Swansea City. Ben Arfa returned to training from a hamstring injury earlier this month – but manager Alan Pardew, mindful of his injury record, didn’t involve him in Sunday’s 4-2 Premier League home win over Southampton.
The 25-year-old is instead primed for a cameo appearance at the Liberty Stadium.
However, such is the improved strength in depth at Newcastle after last month’s transfer activity, there are no guarantees Ben Arfa will make it on to the pitch in South Wales.
Pardew said: “We didn’t have the strength we’ve had on the bench. Perchie (James Perch) has come on (against Southampton) and looked controlled and shored us up. You’ve got the quality of (Vurnon) Anita coming on the pitch. It makes a big difference.”
Ben Arfa suffered his injury in November, and made a brief goalscoring comeback against Fulham the following month.
Speaking about Ben Arfa’s long-awaited return last week, Pardew said: “He’s getting better – but he isn’t there yet. He might get a bit of time at Swansea.”
The new arrivals have also strengthened Pardew’s hand in the Europa League.
Newcastle booked a place in the competition’s Round of 16 last month against Metalist Kharkiv in the Ukraine, where Pardew was able to field a far stronger team than he did in the group stage of the competition.
“I’ve tried to attack it,” said Pardew. “Obviously, I’ve got to change personnel, but we’ve got the quality and depth to do it.
“Danny Simpson and (Mathieu) Debuchy – you couldn’t ask for two better full-back performances (last week). We’ve got that option.”
Pardew, meanwhile, is backing striker Sammy Ameobi to make the most of his loan move to Middlesbrough until the end of the season.
“I want to help Middlesbrough – they’re a good club,” Pardew said. “They’re local to us. Hopefully, Sammy can do what he’s set out to do. We’ve got the option of getting him some experience.
“It’s too soon, maybe, in this first team. But the experience he will gain on loan at Middlesbrough will stand him in good stead for next season.”
Ameobi isn’t eligible for Middlesbrough’s FA Cup game against Chelsea tonight, but could instead make his debut against league leaders Cardiff City on Saturday.