Hatem Ben Arfa could start for NUFC against Benfica in Europa League

Dated: 18/08/2012'GOAL ... Hatem Ben Arfa salutes the crowd after scoring from the penalty spot to ensure a Newcastle victory during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Spurs at St James Park' NOT AVAILABLE FOR PRINT SALES

Dated: 18/08/2012'GOAL ... Hatem Ben Arfa salutes the crowd after scoring from the penalty spot to ensure a Newcastle victory during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Spurs at St James Park' NOT AVAILABLE FOR PRINT SALES

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HATEM Ben Arfa is ready to set St James’s Park alight.

The forward is pushing for a start against Benfica after recovering from injury.

And United manager Alan Pardew believes Ben Arfa can play a decisive role in the club’s Europa League quarter-final, whether he starts or comes off the bench.

Ben Arfa was one of the few Newcastle players to show any consistency in the first few months of the season.

Now he’s available, Pardew can’t wait to unleash him on the Primeira Liga leaders.

“Anything can happen when he plays,” Pardew told SportMail.

“I don’t care who the defence is – if Hatem gets it right, then he can be on fire.”

Ben Arfa has been troubled with a hamstring problem since November. The forward has made just two appearances for United since limping out of the club’s Europa League group stage game against Maritimo.

Pardew feared Ben Arfa needed surgery, but the 27-year-old has made a successful return to training – and he’s let his feet do the talking on the practice pitch.

While Pardew feels Ben Arfa is fit enough to start a game, he could be handed a place on the bench against Benfica, who lead the tie 3-1 after last week’s first leg at the Estadio da Luz.

Pardew is mindful of Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby at St James’s Park, which Ben Arfa could instead start.

“We’ve been very conscious of the picture he is showing us,” added Pardew “The picture he is showing us is that he’s ready – there’s nothing to stop him from starting a game.

“I am playing a little bit of safety with him, especially with Sunderland in mind.”

On Ben Arfa’s quicker-than-expected recovery, he went on: “Hatem’s made an unbelievable recovery.

“I’m sure if he is needed, he’ll be somebody who can turn the game.”

Pardew believes there are more goals in his side, who struck the woodwork twice in Lisbon.

“If we had created no chances in Lisbon and had two shots on target, and they’d had 25, we would be looking at an unrealistic proposition,” he said.

“That wasn’t the case. We caused them a lot of problems – we could have had two goals.

“You could argue we could have had three away from home. We can create chances. It’s really about whether we can defend against them. They can score goals – they’re quick and real talent.

“Therefore, that will be the test for us.”

Three years ago Fulham fought back from the same first-leg scoreline to knock Juventus out of the Europa League.

While Pardew’s players were down after the first leg, they are far from out.

Pardew went on: “You look at Fulham when they were 3-1 down to Juventus.

“They won the second leg 4-1, so you know it is possible. Difficult, but possible.”

Meanwhile, Papiss Demba Cisse – who scored an injury-time winner against Fulham in the Premier League on Sunday – has made a habit of leaving it late this season.

And another late goal could be needed against Benfica.

“I tell myself as long as the referee hasn’t blown his whistle, the game isn’t over,” he said.