HATEM Ben Arfa has been told he can’t expect to walk back into Newcastle United’s starting XI – despite the Magpies’ need for attacking inspiration.
Ben Arfa has not featured for more than a month, having been laid low by a groin injury, and also missing a week’s training when he was given time off for a “family issue”.
But the 27-year-old returned to full training this week, and he is fit and available for tomorrow’s Premier League home game against relegation-threatened Crystal Palace.
Newcastle have not won, or even scored, without Loic Remy – out with a calf problem tomorrow – this season.
And Ben Arfa’s energy and enterprise could unlock a stubborn Palace defence which kept a clean sheet at Sunderland last weekend.
However, Ben Arfa could start the fixture on the bench.
“I need weigh it up with everything else,” Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said.
“Hatem needs to deliver. I’m concerned with his assists and his goals. He needs to produce for us.
“The last few games he’s played, there weren’t as many as he should have been. But I think his confidence is better, and I hope that part of it improves.”
Pardew feels Ben Arfa is in a “better place”.
“Hatem missed six days training last week,” added Pardew. “We’ve put some work into him. We think he’s in a better place.
“I don’t think he’s ready for a 90-minute game in this team at the moment. Obviously, he’ll be involved.”
It is understood that a number of senior players, while recognising his talent with the ball, also have reservations about Ben Arfa’s workrate out of possession.
Meanwhile, Ben Arfa’s return could see teenage striker Adam Armstrong edged off the bench.
The 17-year-old made his senior debut as a substitute late in last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at Fulham.
“Armstrong showed last week, when teams are packed, he might unlock the door,” said Pardew.
“But we’ve got a senior international back. We have Sylvain Marveaux poised as well. Both those players could unlock the door.”