HATEM Ben Arfa declared himself fit for the start of Newcastle United’s season – and is setting his sights high.
Ben Arfa made his first pre-season appearance in last night’s 5-1 win over Hartlepool United.
The 25-year-old is playing catch-up with his fitness after reporting back for pre-season training later than his team-mates.
However, Ben Arfa was lively after coming off the bench for the second half at Victoria Park, where Sylvain Marveaux (2), Shola Ameobi, Haris Vuckic and Gabriel Obertan found the net.
And he is confident he’ll be fit enough to be involved in the season-opener against Tottenham Hotspur at the Sports Direct Arena on August 18.
“It is up to the manager and the fitness coaches – they’ll make the decision,” said Ben Arfa, who was given an extra few weeks off after his involvement in France’s Euro 2012 campaign.
“But I’m ready to be on the pitch or the bench – no problem. I’ll do what the manager says to me.
“It’s nice to be back on the pitch, and I’m happy I played 45 minutes. I feel very good. I will step things up.
“I stayed in Europe for one month, and even though I was on holiday, I played football with my friends. Now I feel good, but I go step by step. Hopefully, I can be ready quickly.
“The most important thing was to be on the pitch and feel the sensation again. You just want to get back to that feeling, feeling good on the pitch.
“You want to feel good with the ball and with your team-mates.”
Ben Arfa has been linked with a summer move to Arsenal, but the talented forward insists he’s happy at Newcastle, and he says the Magpies can build on last season’s achievements.
“All the players have stayed here,”he said. “I think we have to have confidence, as we have very good players.
“Maybe if we feel very good we can finish between fourth and first. Why not? Why can we not say we could be champions? Anything is possible.”
Last night’s game was all but over inside a blistering first 12 minutes.
Supporters were still filing into the ground when Shola Ameobi opened the scoring in the third minute. Dan Gosling found Romain Amalfitano on the right wing, and his low cross was calmly rolled past Scott Flinders by the striker.
Seconds later, it was 2-0, with Ameobi this time the provider. His floated cross from the left to the far post was prodded home by Marveaux at the second attempt.
Ameobi was brought down by the goalkeeper in the 12th minute. Referee David Webb pointed to the spot, and Marveaux stepped up to beat Flinders for the second time.
The game settled down after the frenetic start, but the visitors still kept a tight grip on proceedings.
Pardew sent on Vuckic and Hatem Ben Arfa for the second half in place of Steven Taylor and Ameobi, who had suffered an injury before the break under a challenge from Jack Baldwin. James Perch – who had started the game in midfield – dropped back into defence to accommodate the extra attacker.
And the pair combined for an early chance, with Flinders stopping a close-range effort from Ben Arfa.
However, Vuckic soon had the ball in the back of the net, though the goal had a element of good fortune, with Ben Arfa’s cross – meant for Amalfitano – being deflected to Vuckic, who expertly lifted the ball over the advancing Flinders.
Antony Sweeney pulled one back for Pools soon afterwards – the midfielder turned a Neil Austin free-kick past Steve Harper – but the result was never in doubt.
Pardew sent on goalkeeper Jak Alnwick and defender Curtis Good for their senior debuts as the half progressed.
But it was Gabriel Obertan, another second-half substitute, who caught the eye.
The winger completed the scoring five minutes from time with a shot from 18 yards after taking the ball on the right wing.
HARTLEPOOL UNITED: Flinders, Austin, Baldwin, Hartley, Horwood, Franks, Walton, Sweeney, Monkhouse, James, Howard.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Harper (Alnwick, 84), Simpson (Good, 73), S Taylor (Vuckic, 46), Williamson, Tavernier, Marveaux (Obertan, 78), Bigirimana (Abeid, 60), Perch (R Taylor, 73), Amalfitano (Santon, 80), Gosling, Shola Ameobi (Ben Arfa, 46).