Hatem Ben Arfa poised to give Newcastle survival boost
Hatem Ben Arfa could play again before the end of the season, so handing Newcastle a huge boost in their fight to stay in the Premier League.
The French forward was involved at the club's Little Benton training ground yesterday, allaying long-held fears that he would need an operation to cure a hamstring injury that has sidelined him for all but one game since December.
Manager Alan Pardew admitted last month that he thought an operation was likely, which would have ruled out Ben Arfa for the rest of the season because of the nature of the injury – an old problem that had not cured properly.
However, a period of rest appears to have resolved the issue and the 26-year-old is now expected to play a part in Newcastle's relegation battle.
The France international has made only a brief cameo appearance in 2013, starting as a lone striker against Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala in the Europa League. He has not played in the Premier League this year and has been a significant miss during a hugely disappointing domestic campaign for the club.
Newcastle are hovering above the relegation zone following a run of just two wins in their last six games and there has been consternation at the amount of time the player has missed because of the injury.
He has been linked with a possible move to Liverpool as part of a swap deal with Andy Carroll, but the England forward's wages are significantly outside Newcastle's strict pay structure.
The club also do not want to let Ben Arfa go and the player would only consider a switch if it was to a major European club who play regularly in the Champions' League.
First they must hang on to their Premier League status. Pardew has admitted the forthcoming eight days present one of the biggest challenges of his time in charge at St James' Park – after today's game, Newcastle host Benfica in the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final on Thursday trailing 3-1 from the first leg, before the Tyne-Wear derby against Sunderland next Sunday.
The manager is unlikely to have his combative midfielder Cheick Tioté available today, as the player pulled out of training yesterday. That provided a further blow to a team who also be without captain Fabricio Coloccini, Ben Arfa, Massadio Haidara and Mathieu Debuchy. Their opponents Fulham, on the other hand, go into today's match undefeated in five games.
Newcastle v Fulham is today, kick-off 3pm
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