Fulham clash too early for Newcastle United’s Ben Arfa

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HATEM Ben Arfa will return to the Newcastle United fold against Crystal Palace – if he comes through a punishing week’s work, writes Miles Starforth.

The forward has been sidelined for more than a month.

And Ben Arfa wasn’t in the squad for this afternoon’s game against Fulham at Craven Cottage.

Instead, Ben Arfa – who trained alone with a fitness coach on Thursday – stayed behind on Tyneside to work on his conditioning, having been given time off this month to visit his family as he recovered from a groin problem.

If Ben Arfa can prove his fitness, he could feature against Palace at St James’s Park on Saturday, according to United manager Alan Pardew.

“Hatem had a family issue, and he had to miss a week’s training,” Pardew said.

“He’s going to work this weekend. Hopefully, he’ll pick up some fitness between now and Crystal Palace.”

Ben Arfa has struggled for form and fitness this season.

But he has still shown his brilliance, not least in the club’s away win at Aston Villa early in the season, when he scored and ran the home side ragged.

However, Ben Arfa has been in and out of Pardew’s team since then.

The hope on Tyneside is that he could yet have a decisive influence on the club’s campaign.

With leading scorer Loic Remy expected to miss the next three games wiht a calf problem, Newcastle, eighth in the Premier League with 10 games left to play, need Ben Arfa’s energy and enterprise in the final third of the pitch.

Ben Arfa’s last goal came from the penalty spot in United’s 3-0 win over Palace at Selhurst Park in December.

Newcastle are looking to claim a fourth win in the capital this season against Fulham.

Remarkably, United have won more games away – seven – than they have at St James’s Park this season.

“It comes from having a good game-plan away from home, having good pace in the team – which we have – and sometimes a little bit of luck, which we have had in certain away games,” said Pardew.

“It’s a shame that it’s not been reflected at home in the same manner, because our home form has been patchy, and we’re certainly looking to improve that, even though after Palace, we’ve got two really tricky games.”